'Technological epidemic' affects child development

Kwantlen instructor asks “how much technology is too much?”

Kwantlen instructor asks “how much technology is too much?”

By Lliam Easterbrook
[senior features writer]

Kwantlen’s interdisciplinary expressive arts guru Ross Laird held a seminar last Wednesday night at Kwantlen’s Surrey conference centre about the role of technology in our lives. The discussion caught the eyes and ears of about 100 parents, educators and students, and through the use of visuals, story and humour, Laird made the two-hour seminar light, informative and engaging. Laird maintained an air of optimism for the role of technology in our lives, but he cautioned that if its use continues unquestioned and unregulated, there is the potential for it to become a detriment to our lives.

Before the seminar I caught up with Laird for a brief interview where we discussed the emerging problems with technology abuse. We talked about the rapid growth of, in particular, computer and handheld technologies, and their overarching use in our everyday life. I asked him about the implications of contemporary society’s constant need for technological stimulation. He said, “we’ve allowed technology to suffuse every part of our daily lives,” and added, “do we really want to be living in a society where everybody goes to bed with a technological device? Do we want to be in a situation where the social lives of kids are mediated by technology through texting? Where at the family dinner table, kids are gaming and parents are checking email? I think the answer is generally ‘no’ if you ask most people.”

Kwantlen instructor Ross Laird addressed the issue of technology on modern society in a seminar Nov. 16, 2011. LLIAM EASTERBROOK/THE RUNNER

He said that these types of things are already happening, and we now have to figure out how we deal with it. Do we let our use of technology continue unchecked, or do we need to figure out a way to mediate these changes before they potentially reveal more serious consequences?

Wednesday night’s presentation, geared toward parents and educators who struggle with kids who often have unregulated access to computers and cell phones, was informative and insightful. Laird revealed concepts that deal with the need for a discourse with children at various stages of development, and how to regulate screen time in a healthy way.

He began by showing Katsushika Hokusai’s famous woodblock print, The Great Wave, mentioning that the giant, foreboding wave (technology) looming over a small skiff (humanity) amidst a torrent of thrashing white water, is metaphorically similar to our current situation.

Technology is here, now, to stay. It may, at times, seem overwhelming, but facing technology, by looking analytically at the implications of our technological world, are essential for establishing a rubric for a healthy synthesis of technology with our lives.

Laird raised poignant questions; such as how are we to navigate through so much technology? How much technology is too much? How do we negotiate its use with our loved ones and ourselves? Do we allow technology to dictate the course of our lives, or do we learn to dictate its use and prevalence? How are we to do this?

He maintained that when it comes to children’s use of technology, communication is paramount. And for both children and adults, self-regulation is the key to healthy technology use. Overall, less use means less abuse.

Laird presented the hard facts regarding technology and child development, what has essentially become a technological epidemic. Children aged 8-18 spend more time in front of computer, television, and game screens than any other activity except sleeping; approximately 30 per cent of children and teens are overweight and roughly 15 per cent are obese; and, screen time — even just two hours a day — has been shown to significantly increase the chances of hypertension and disorders like ADHD.

The use of technology, if unregulated, can also affect teenagers and adults. Since we are social beings by nature, the ramifications of excessive technology use can isolate us, affecting our development and possibly dehumanizing us. It can become an addiction that is psychologically and physically detrimental.

Technology addiction can be problematic for the same reason other addictions are problematic: it becomes a need and a necessity, not a tool and a privilege. Physiologically, most technology use involves little to no exercise, and that in and of itself is a problem that needs to be addressed.

The key, Laird said, is learning self-regulation and then teaching children the benefits of self-regulating their use of technology the moment they start using it.

Since technology is an unavoidable part of our lives, learning how to use it is essential; but what’s more essential is learning how not to misuse it, and how to know when to turn it off. And when it’s turned off, there needs to be something stimulating and engaging for children to do so they won’t want to immediately go back to technology. He stressed the need for mentorship and experience in the lives of children instead of technology.

Laird’s presentation did not focus solely on the negative aspects of technology.

“Technology is great,” he said, “but there’s got to be a middle ground where we have a say in the extent to which technology becomes foundational to culture moving forward.”

He seemed especially optimistic about the future role of technology in education. Since technology has the ability to transform the way we communicate and learn, it will undoubtedly shape the way we educate. With regards to technology in our everyday lives, “The key is balance,” Laird suggested.