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Technology: The End of the Future?
While walking down the streets of Boston, Massachusetts, it is nearly impossible to ignore how the people of the world have changed their lives over the last few decades. Technology is everywhere: in the windows of stores, in vehicles, in homes and even in schools. Children, who are growing up in this new technological age, are the most affected by it all. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, children ages eight to eighteen spend approximately 7.5 hours every day using electronic devices (Lister). The true question is whether these accommodating new advances are helping children succeed in life, or destroying all hope for the future of the world.
First invented by a 14-year-old boy, televisions have been around since the early 20th century (Landen). Now it has exploded into one the most recognizable devices in the last 80 years. “Television had its debut in North America in 1939 as an object of curiosity at a world’s fair exhibition” (Berry 10). Originally, it began as soundless black and white pictures, then black and white with sound, and in 1953, color television was developed (Landen). Now in the year 2011, Americans not only have color television, but these new screens are larger and thinner than ever before and in high definition. Children can now watch almost anything on television with capabilities such as Digital Video Recorder systems (DVRs) and local cable networks, like Comcast, now offer On Demand services, which make it virtually impossible for them to miss their favorite programs (Comcast Digital Television). Modern televisions offer shows for all ages including news, drama, movies, reality television, comedy, cartoons, and so much more. They also offer multiple choices in programming with over 1000 channels to choose from! Individuals can even add accessories to them including a Video Cassette Recorder (VCR), a Digital Versatile/Video Disc (DVD), and a Blu-ray Disc Player. To make it even more amazing, science has found a magnificent way to not only make it feel like you are watching shows in the moment, but to actually bring the viewer into the show itself, with 3-D televisions.
Subsequently, to children of the United States, television is a simple way to “escape the boredom of everyday life” and into a world where they do not have to worry about anything (Berry 17). In the 1950s, the average child spent 4.5 hours each day watching television, but a more modern study shows that in the 1980s and 1990s children spent 7.5 or more hours watching television in a single day (Berry 11). This might actually be good, compared to studies that disclaim it. Most of these studies are in fact conducted in laboratory settings that may make children angry, aggressive, or even confused (Fowles 40). In a setting other than in their own homes, a child might feel uncomfortable and scared which may result in negative behavior. It often is not even aggression, but rather an act of repeating what they are seeing on the lab-chosen programs (Fowles 41). “Viewing in the laboratory setting is involuntary, public, choiceless, intense, uncomfortable, and single-minded, whereas actually viewing is voluntary, private, selective, nonchalant, comfortable, and in the context of competing activities” (Fowles 41).
Furthermore, many parents believe that television viewing is “a window on the world” to send their young, information-hungry children into. Watching television may in fact help children later in life as well (Berry 17). Children who watch Sesame Street, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, or Reading Rainbow will not only learn something, but they will also most likely play cooperatively with others. They will share and express positive concern for other people (Berry 14). If they watch the news or child friendly news programs, they will be able to stay up to date on current problems and events in the world. These programs also let them see and experience new people and places they otherwise would never see elsewhere (Berry 17).
On the contrary, television viewing is very harmful to children as well. Newton Minow, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, once said, “In 1961 I worried that my children would not benefit much from television, but in 1991, I worry that my grandchildren will actually be harmed by it” (Berry 11). Evidently, he had every reason to think this. There is now a constant amount of violence on televisions, more so than there ever has been. According to Albert Bandura at Stanford University (1961 study) large amount of violence can lead to extremely aggressive behavior (Berry 13). In addition, Aletha Huston (study completed in 1972) concluded that children, who watch television shows such as Superman or Batman, usually play much less cooperatively with others. She also stated that television obviously takes time away from physical activities, for example team sports, and school time activities, like reading (Berry 17 “All television is children's television (Adler).” Essentially this is true because children will watch anything as long as it does not involve thinking. This does include shows that their parents and older siblings watch in their free time. Parents are not always completely aware of what exactly their children are watching on televisions, and that can seriously damage a child’s emotional state of mind.
Also, television can encourage children to learn to behave aggressively when things do not go the way they want. For example, Sam Puckett, a character on the popular Nickelodeon children’s show iCarly, is constantly getting herself into trouble and using violence and threats to get what she wants without working for anything. Children under the age of ten-years-old cannot connect violent acts to consequences. Therefore, they think they, just like television characters, can get away with anything. Subsequently, they think their beloved shows are real (Potter 33).
Additionally, George Gerbner, from the University of Pennsylvania, said that in one hour of “primetime” evening television, five violent acts were shown, but in one hour of Saturday morning kid shows, there were 20-25 violent acts (Berry 14). Clearly, violence is portrayed all throughout television shows, and it is beginning to show in the real world. On average, 250,000 people are murdered each year, 2 million are injured in assaults, and 28,000 are killed in traffic accidents (with a 7% increase every year) (Potter 28). In fact, a Harris Poll study asked 2,000 teenagers a series of questions and the results were quite shocking. 46% of them “said they have changed their daily behavior because of a fear of crime and violence”, 12% said they carried a gun to school for protection, and another 12% said they altered their route to school to avoid violent acts and crime. This builds upon the fact that there was a 23.5% increase in violent crimes from 1989 to 1985 (Potter 28).
One of the most common accessories to the television is video games. Some of the most common game systems, used with televisions, are the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, GameCube, Nintendo 64 and many others. Video games that do not require televisions to play them are the Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, Gameboy, and several others. Games associated with all these systems include learning games, violent war games, racing games, strategy games, reality games (such as Sims), and fantasy games. All games are organized by The Entertainment Software Rating Board system, which is “designed to provide concise and impartial information about the content in computer and video games so consumers, especially parents, can make an informed purchase decision” (ESRB.org). These ratings are as followed: EC (Early Childhood), E (Everyone), rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older), T (Teen), M (Mature), AO (Adults Only), and RP (Rating Pending). These ratings are shown both on the front side of a video game box and on the backside as well.
Evidently, video games can be very harmful to the minds of young children. They limit mental skills and do not always aid learning. In addition, video games damage critical reasoning and a child’s attention span (Lister). Violent games like Destroy All Humans, Killzone, Heavenly Sword, Assassin’s Creed, First to Fight, Mortal Kombat, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Left 4 Dead tend to teach children and young adults that violent nature and language are acceptable in today’s society (Osit 23-24). Swear words, sexually explicit language, and slang words depicted in video games have weaseled their way into music, on social networking sites, and in everyday instant messages and text messages, making them “ok” to today’s society.
In contrast, not everything about video games is harmful. Over the last fifty years, there has been a “constant increase in visual reasoning skills” (Lister). One study viewed by Patricia Greenfield from the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that video games actually help surgeons perfect certain surgery techniques that would be difficult to learn in any other setting besides experience (Lister). These techniques require extreme concentration on small parts, which is very similar to playing video games. Video gamers evidently are better at multitasking compared to non-players due to “the increasingly complex visual information” from video game playing (Lister). Video gamers also use their skills to plan; analyze information; predict; use flexible thinking; use both long and short memory; read, and to understand cause-and-effect relationships (Osit 241-242). Surprisingly, video games can often be a history lesson to many children because a large group of games is set during historical periods (Osit 244). For example, the game Call of Duty: Black Ops, though extremely violent, takes place during the Cold War (Call of Duty: Black Ops). When children ask about these events, they will be able to learn what war they are “fighting in.” This will also, strengthen the ties of the family and foster companionship (Osit 245).
Another part of modern technology that children and teenagers especially are fond of is the cellular phone (mobile phone), or most commonly known as the cell phone. In 1973, inventor Martin Cooper made the first phone call to his company’s rival, AT&T. He later said,
As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call. Remember that in 1973, there were not cordless telephones or cellular phones. I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter - probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life (Marples). Now, cell phones are capable of doing nearly anything. One can surf the internet, send text messages, make phone calls, listen to music, update social networking websites, view and make videos and photographs, and send emails and instant messages. Adding to the convenience and simplicity, all these features can be used all across the world for relatively cheap prices.
One of the most popular actions that can be done on a cell phone is texting. Texting can be both beneficial and very harmful at the same time. Research from the Pew Research Center says that one-half of American teenagers, ages twelve to seventeen, send fifty or more text messages each day and one-third send more than one hundred (Stout)! They also calculated that two-thirds of those tested, would much rather text a friend than call them. 54% said they text their friends every day, but only 33% said that they actually talk to those friends on a daily basis (Stout).
Furthermore, many teenagers use their cell phones to participate in “sexting” which is “a term coined by the media that generally refers to sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photos or sexually suggestive messages through text message or email” (Crisis Intervention Center). Sexting, along with cyber-bullying, is a large contributor to teen suicide rates. Texting also leaves little or no time for one-on-one interaction between friends, which takes the intimate emotional time away from face-to-face conversations (Stout). Additionally, texting weakens the reading and writing skills of teenagers greatly. Shortened words with missing letters are more common than regular words and punctuation is usually completely absent. Words like “kno,” “nah,” “cuz,” “wanna,” “gonna,” “yepp,” “k,” “ru” and “yo” are found in most messages. Also, new words are just as common such as “lol” which means, “laugh out loud” and “ily” means, “I love you.” The table below shows many others like this (photo available at: http://labfive.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/periodic-text-message-table).
Contrary to popular belief, cell phones can actually help children as well. Texting allows kids to stay connected with their friends all the time and for much longer periods of time. It makes creating plans for future social engagements much faster and much easier too (Stout). Texting can also make friends much closer than ever before because they are more likely to share more embarrassing events through a text message rather than face-to-face. Text conversations are often followed-up with actual conversations, which can help strengthen the bonds of friendship. This can also help more shy children to be more social and make more friends.
Although it is quite new on the technological scale, the computer’s internet capability is one of the most prominent and wildly used pieces of technology of today. Most children even as young as nine are on social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Tumblr. Email providers such as Yahoo!, Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, and Mail.com all have instant messengers to make communication between friends faster and easier. Webcams and microphones make new video chat websites, such as Skype, Blogtv, Stickam, ustream and ooVoo easier to maneuver and more convenient. In addition, gaming websites such as Pogo, Neopets.com, Bored.com, and Games.com, allow people to play games at the same time as using other websites and chat rooms. Search engines allow teenagers, children, and adults to learn more information as quickly as possible. Google, Yahoo!, and Bing are the most popularly used search engines in the country. Often times search engines will direct people to news websites or gossip sites such as TMZ.com, BBC.com, or CNN.com, to inform on what is going on in the world. Lastly, online shopping sites like eBay, craigslist, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target, all allow consumers to get products they want whenever they want without ever needing to leave their couch.
A young 7-year-old girl looked up the word “fairies” on an internet search engine so she could have a picture to hang on her bedroom wall. As well as the numerous pictures of Tinker Bell, there were also many pictures of gay rights protestors. Her parents then had to explain why gay rights activists popped up on her fairy search before she really needed to know (Osit 51). Another child accidently typed in the word “nake” instead of “nuke” while doing a school project. Large amounts of sexually explicit material came up. It is almost impossible to avoid such mishaps, except by using parental controls on children’s’ computers (Osit 51). Exposing inappropriate materials to young children can seriously affect their emotional development (Osit 18). In essence, it may lead them to grow up too fast.
In comparison, the internet has many more good qualities than bad. The internet broadens children’s’ minds and critical thinking skills (Osit 18). Overall, this can enhance their self-esteem and can encourage them to look up information they do not already know. This current generation of kids is “poised to become the best informed, most literate, and most international generation ever” because they have access to all information out there (Osit 18).
Social networking sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace are a virtual road into the lives of everybody else in the world. They allow children and teenagers to express their own thoughts and emotions carefully after thinking about them beforehand. This can aid in large misunderstandings, which can often be disastrous in young relationships (Osit 236). In addition, social networks give kids a place to experiment “ways to greet people, ask questions, assert themselves, and respond to others pensively with the ability to reflect before sending” (Osit 236). In conclusion, by allowing children to have access to these sites, parents are helping their children learn to think before they act.
In general, technology has resulted in the drastic changing of America’s youth, and many of these changes are far from good. Obesity rates have risen considerably over the last few decades as shown in the graph on the previous page ( picture found at: http://health.uml.edu/thc/HealthIssues/childhood_obesity_amy/Default.html). Out of over 40 studies done on the subject, one
Canadian study conducted in 2003 and published in the "International Journal of Obesity" linked 7- to 11-year-olds' television and computer use to a significantly increased risk to being overweight or obese. The study found that children who spent 3 or more hours a day in front of technology had between a 17- and 44-percent increase of risk of being overweight, or a 10- to 61-percent increase risk in obesity (Cespedes).
The chart to the left proves this study (photo available at: http://www.archives.gov/about/speeches/03-27-01.html#chart). Obesity rates have clearly more than double in 20 years. During that, time period, a large portion of electronic devices were introduced and marketed.
In conclusion, technology is one of the most controversial subjects out there mostly and it is so crucial that the world understands it. If over-used and abused, technology could be the end of civilization as the world has been accustomed to. If the population of the world can find a way to harbor in all this technology and keep it safe, then it may be possible for the world to continue as it is now or even get better. Children and teenagers are the future of this world. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure their safety, and knowledge of everything is accurate and helpful to their development and growth. That means that televisions, computers, cell phones and music devices need to be able to help children and teenagers expand their minds while still enjoying themselves. This is a difficult request, but it is very possible to accomplish. As it stands right now, technology is not harming children, but if it continues to go in the direction it is going in, it may begin to do this very act.
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