I work with youth who often have bad prospects in life. For them technology is a means of escapeism. They escape the place and time they are at - and their problems - by investing themselves in games like World of Warcraft. The poorer the kids, the more reason they have to escape.
The fewer opportunities they have to join clubs for sports or pursue other leisure activities. So the iPad or the phone is a replacement, because the real world is too unattractive to them. Cellphone addiction is a substitutional drug abuse. It substitutes young people for actions they cannot pursue in real life. Netflix is escapeism, Game of Thrones is escapeism.
I love Game of Thrones, but I also have a pretty nice life, so that I can turn to something else after the season ends (and I don’t mean Westworld…). Very often poor people who work two jobs don’t have any other luxury than media. Escapeism is the only thing they have to keep their mind off their problems.
In India the Bollywood industry has been a means for escapeism for a billion poor people since almost 100 years now. If you are poor and miserable, a 4 hour long Bollywood movie gives you 4 hours of being a rich hero instead of a hungry day laborer with 4 malnourished kids at home. The Romans invented it with their Panem et Circenses methodology of appeasing the poor public with enough bread to not starve and violent games. Food stamps and Netflix on mobile are just the same for todays world. Once a society needs to do this it is very much doomed, because the lulling effect of escapeism is only going to work until the first people start to wake up.
If you have urban kids who cannot pursue their natural urge to move about, climb on trees, run around they do the same in a substitutional environment such as Minecraft, where they can build things. The solution is not banning the digital devices, but enabling children to be HUMAN and do what human children need to do: play outside, get exposed to nature, get dirty and also once in a while do risky stuff (incl. broken bones).
We get all upset when we see factory farmed animals and yet we treat our kids worse. Human children need interaction with nature. They need animals, woodland, eat grass, the odd earthworm, get dirty. Farmers kids rarely have autoimmune diseases or allergies. Allergies are caused by too little exposure to allergenes as a child. So in Switzerland we put the babies in the cowshed where they are exposed to hay, to cow dung and a plethora of bacteria which shapes their own biome. I did this with my son. And it worked. My generation was raised “antiseptically” and we are all allergic to everything, but my son is rarely sick and has no allergies.
In Switzerland we live in a high tech country, but our children are raised in a natural environment. They eat dirt when they are 2, they fish crabs in the creek when they’re 4 and they climb on trees when they’re 6 including bruises, cuts and the odd broken arm if need be. My son goes on a hike in the woods every friday for 4 hours with his public kindergarten in any weather and temperature.
In order to kill cellphone addiction we need to make life less miserable for our kids and for poor people. If reality sucks less, escapeism will become less attractive. We need to learn to live in the moment, at the place we’re at. To be focused in the now.
So what do we need to do:
- If my son has the choice between building a snowman outside with his friends or play on the iPad, he’ll go out in the snow. He has a choice to do something REAL and cool outside unsupervised. He and his chums climbed on a tree, they stuffed the ventilation hole of our garage with garbage, they did a lot of other silly stuff. But knowing that they can do funny stuff gets them motivated to go outside.
He has been going out alone to play with his chums at the age of 4. Now at age 6 he walks to school by himself and is allowed to visit some of his neighbourhood friends and playground by himself (suburban village, not many cars, forest).
- This of course works better if you live in a rural or suburban neighbourhood than in a inner city. Technology would enable us to live out in the country. Yet we all live in densely populated “tech-hubs” with unpayable real estate prices. Why don’t we create small communities where we can live a simpler life off the hubs, but in a more collaborative way? I am trying to do that with my village.
- My son only spends 30 Min. a day on any device, if at all. He has enough other stuff going on.
- If we are serious about our childrens wellbeing we need to offer more music, more art, more woodworking, more sports also to poorer children. They need to have a choice and it’s not up to the parents who sometimes work two jobs. Society must offer this in order to advance itself. This will work in Europe, parts of Asia and Canada as they have the means to propagate this on a governement level. In the US it will be on a private level, where rich people will probably get it and poor people will be tossed under the bus.
- Stop overprotecting your kids. Overprotecting is smothering. You can’t lock em up in the cupboard. Of course the sofa with an iPad is safer than the playground outside, but that is a domestic jail and not child friendly.
- A local community which takes care of the weakest links of society is the one which thrives. I know that my child is safe because all adults will look out for him. There are evil people but they are a tiny minority. The majority of the people is usually ok. If you shape a society where the majority of people is OK, you can relax.