The Age of Escapeism - Why the root cause of cellphone addiction is despair

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:

  1. 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).

  1. 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.
  2. My son only spends 30 Min. a day on any device, if at all. He has enough other stuff going on.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

I loved this post - thank you so much for sharing this.

Very important points. This next wave of US tech companies aligned with humane tech has much to learn from our Nordic neighbors. Thank you for sharing.

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I believe Andrew is spot on!! What we need is to bring back Human connection, let go the fear of the unknown (I see kids these days playing at the playground with bicycle helmets?!), and embrace life!!! Happy Saturday!

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What a great post! This sort of mentally is crucial in the development of our children. I use theater and performance as a way to socially connect people to each other in our technology-obsessed world. I love your points of exposing kids to nature and getting them outdoors. It is so essential and so important.


Wonderful, you made my day. If you want to create community not too far from Switzerland, come to Portugal. Plenty of land still fairly cheap, snow in the North if you want, Sun in the South. And open minded people.

Here’s a book that describes an experiment with a school near Oxford that implemented a "living Values Program with great success. “A Quiet Revolution” by Frances Farrer.

I worked in a drug clinic in Holland where they had a workshop so that the patients could use their hands to create wooden chairs from wood, found in the forests amongst other things. Another great initiative was to bring drug users to farms and let them help out their under mild supervision. Most changed within weeks, more stable, happier, stronger, less violent.

Small things can make a world of difference.

Most people are lost because they don’t know who they are or where they belong.
Modern day society is an orphan ever since we sacrificed religion on the alter of science.

Great to hear the story of your kid. Really enjoyed it.

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Often the start of these outdoor activities happens after banning an electronic device. I know some parents who have had to make a kid take a holiday from an iPad. That dopamine rush once discovered takes mature discipline to place on hold to experience real nature. Our kids really need our guidance and redirection. Nobody will die without a video game or social media, it will be uncomfortable but coming off addictive substances are too. The person is left with the problems they escaped from. It’s hard work!! Great post thanks!!

Thank you so much for this post @Malaidoskop!

Pretty much every point you make is crucial to this topic, but my favorite is the overprotecting piece; just two days ago I spoke with a mother who was [seemingly] thrilled to hear that I am in the field of psychology and coaching, and parenting in the age of technology in particular, and she asked me [sounding very perplexed and hopeful], “OK so what is the answer?!” Her son is an only child and spends a lot of time playing multi-player games, which she is conflicted about because of the tech aspect being less than ideal, but at least that allows him to socialize, she figures. Once we delved deeper into the topic and I started suggesting little adjustments she could make with her son [e.g. they had just gotten a new puppy and so he could spend time outdoors walking the puppy etc.], for every single one of my suggestions, she found a reason why he couldn’t do that [e.g. in the puppy scenario, “the winter has been so cold.”]. And this made me think of the new Jean Twenge book, “iGen,” and the fact that, yes, today’s teenagers are probably the safest they have ever been, but at what cost? Loneliness, isolation, anxiety… The list goes on.

So for that reason, I am so thrilled to read a post like this coming from a parent. Also, looking at some of the other comments, it occurred to me that perhaps parents in Europe should be considered as serious role-models to show us how we can extract our children from the grips of technology. Not only that, but I am also assuming that you yourself model to your son a healthy relationship to technology, and that’s something that I believe we have overlooked; we have been so hyper-focused on how technology is affecting children, we have forgotten to turn our heads and look at the parents [as they are looking at their own screens]!

Thank you again!

Less and unnecessary tech interaction means more time for real world interaction. That is good for young people.

We are a 3 generation family of Information Techologists, Researchers, teachers, gamers and geeks. We know about the pitfalls and steer around them carefully with community, friendship, close family ties, gardening, animals and nature. We also use technology actively to teach our kids systemic thinking, systemic design so that they learn to code to create and not be consuming Techzombies.

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What I don’t understand is how the alleged fine-tuning of the experience promised via the ‘give us your data so that we can personalise your experience’ marketing why do the outcomes all look so similar? Data is being syphoned from us left right and centre but the resulting social media tech always feels one dimensional and generic - delivered in the same sterile screen based way. Real world is so much more multi dimensional - lets get people addicted to that instead : )