We have come a long way since the 70s, when a personal pocket wizard with broad abilities was, no, not an iPhone 7 in rose gold, just a calculator. But are we smarter now that technology has armed us with a palm-sized answer to everything? Or are we simply slaves of reliance, losing the ability to make our own magic, mentally and socially?
If we cast our minds back to the days when we were oh so young, we can recall memories of ourselves as children, playing outside until the streetlights turned on, amusing ourselves with sports, building forts, riding bikes and getting our hands dirty. We were the masters of imaginary games and wild stories without the assistance of anything but our own creativity. Children of the past were active; they were present in life and their sensory world was magical, nature-based and simple. It was dinner time when the sun disappeared behind the houses, so we waved goodbye to our companions, hurrying to the dinner table with dirty shoes still on. Now the trip is much shorter and a goodbye high-five is replaced with:
“GTG bae, mum is making me have dinner now TTYL, (cranky face emoji), x.”
Capturing the minds of a whole generation of children, 21st-century hand-held technology is now crowding the homes of families across the globe, affecting all ages. As little minds and fingers become accustomed to highly intelligent interfaces, children are reaching for more sophisticated, higher-quality learning tools. The part that technological devices play is surely limiting the psychological and physical development of young people and their own imaginations.
It is worrying to acknowledge that, as smart technologies become more intrusive, they risk undermining our autonomy, creativity, surrendering our surveillance and eliminating privacy and face-to-face interactions. When was the last time you wrote a hand-written letter to your Grandma in a fancy font or done a mathematical calculation on a napkin? How many times a day do you take an iPhone photograph instead of a mental image? What’s even worse, is when children say to their parents, “thank you for watching me with your eyes when I play trucks.” There is a whole new meaning to, “Mum, watch this!”
Technology has enabled us to do more, whilst understanding less. “Our brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Executive Director of the Centre on Media and Child Health in Boston. “And the effects could linger. The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”
There is no doubt that smart technology grants us unprecedented, instant access to information and to each other, a ubiquitous, seamless presence like no other, that we couldn’t imagine day to day life without. Leaving your phone at home by accident has become the equivalent of leaving your head behind because it wasn’t screwed on.
In certain situations, the benefits of new, illustrious innovation are irreplaceable. However, nothing can ever compensate for, or replace the creativity of, our own imagination and physical endeavours that can and should, no matter how old we are, be achieved without the help of smart devices.
Clearly, we are doomed. If this is how life has changed in the last decade, what hope is there for the smart technology-addicted person of the future? Will we even still breathe on our own?
For now though, to ensure a healthy balance in our personal and family lifestyles, technology can't crowd out tangible learning, looking into a lover’s eyes, bedtime reading, make-believe play, and digging in the mud; it simply must be additive.