The Future of Youth Technology

June 9, 2008
By Patrick McKinney, Winchester, VA

Now, as I type, listen to music, and chat with friends, I realize how much technology changes our lives. It changes the way we work, learn, socialize, stay in touch and kill time (oh how we kill time). We can work efficiently, quickly and accurately and do it comfortably. It can make our lives easier, simpler, and less stressful - if we don’t abuse it.

It was Margaret Mead that theorized living an industrial society is the root of adolescent stress. As members of an industrialized society, American youth are no strangers to television, video games, the web or cell phones. A tech-savvy eight-year-old can keep himself entertained from Sun-up to bed-time if he can find the remote. And as a member of the last generation who will know what boredom feels like, I have a question: What effect will technology have on our youth?

For years, from as far back as I can remember, to the time my parents gave up, I struggled to spend as much time doing nothing as possible. I hated that my parents made me earn my leisure time, but today I thank them. Of course I don’t tell them I appreciate it, but I do, and I would hate to see the person I might have been if they hadn’t shoved me and my friends out the door. Sadly in my short lifetime, things have changed.

Today many children, teens, young adults and even grown men (and women) consider themselves “gamers”. A gamer is simply someone who takes video games very seriously. In 2007 Americans alone spent about 18 billion dollars on video game hardware (Chronology). Whether they enjoy gunning down opponents or vicariously live a more exciting life of dragon-slaying and fantasy in the World of Warcraft AKA “WoW”, they take pride in their gaming. A 2007 Nielsen Co. reported that of the ten million World of Warcraft subscribers, each plays an average of 2.5 hours - per day, every day. Approximately one hundred thousand Chinese are employed by playing the game in sweat-shop like conditions as “gold farmers”: selling “WoW” currency for real money to serious players around the globe. Addictions to this particular game have become so serious that support groups have sprung up for both players, and those affected by a loved-one’s habits.

Even video-games can’t match the amount of time American youth spend watching television - spending about 66 percent more time in front of the television than they do in the classroom (Television). Assuming the majority of these kids aren’t tuned into The History Channel, this time isn’t exactly beneficial.

Psychologists are growing increasingly concerned about a brand new electronic addiction: social networking (Facebook, Myspace etc.). Users create a profile, keep in touch, share photos, play games and send each other countless virtual items and gifts. Not only that, but a “news feed” constantly informs users of nearly every action taken by their “Facebook friends”. I can vouch for those who suggest that most users feel the impulse to constantly check Facebook to see what attention friends have given them.
Recently my college-age brother jokingly suggested a Facebook management service for those who just don’t have the time to do it themselves anymore. And apart from wasting time, psychologists say Facebook can take the place of real relationships, and stunt emotional growth. But if you can’t be on Facebook, don’t worry – you can constantly text your friends. Sit in on any high-school class-room and you’ll understand what I mean. You’ll realize that half a dozen students have their cell phones under their desk sending and receiving messages like “hey, wut up? I’m bored” that apparently can’t wait.
By now you’re probably wondering how we find the time to better ourselves and experience what life has to offer between all the convenience and entertainment the electronic world has to offer. The answer is sadly that sometimes we don’t. We spend our lives in front of screens.
From what I understand, there was a time when children enjoyed listening to their parent’s stories. It seems that today that most families struggle to make time to exchange pleasantries before retiring to their own mind-numbing activities. If my children have the interest, or the attention span to listen, I’d love to have some stories to tell them.

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