Technology puts users on a tight leash, families fight back

Dave Masko's picture

Today’s overuse of technology puts users on such a tight leash that many experts say "they can’t break away;" while one parent explains how “three totally wired teenagers and a mother who slept with her iPhone, pulled the plug on their technology and lived to tell the tale.”

In fact, a new book about how it’s nearly impossible to push back from technology’s influence on youth and family members is waking some people up to overuse of cell phones and the Internet at a time when many young people even sleep with their technology and depend upon it with too much faith.

“At ages 14, 15 and 18, my daughters and son don’t use media. They inhabit media. And they do so exactly as fish inhabit a pond. Gracefully. Unblinkingly. And utterly without consciousness or curiosity as to how they got there.” So says Susan Maushart, who holds a Ph.D. in media ecology from New York University, has written a book titled “The Winter of Our Disconnect” that’s become a sort of text book for open minded parents here in Eugene.

In turn, Maushart’s book puts the spotlight on today’s digital culture where many of today’s youth “don’t remember a time before e-mail, or instant messaging.”

She adds: “They’re kids who’ve had cell phones and wireless Internet longer than they’ve had molars. At the simplest level, The Winter of Our Disconnect is the story of how one highly idiosyncratic family survived six months of wandering through the desert, digitally speaking, and the lessons we learned about ourselves and our technology along the way.”

At the same time, her story offers a wider view on the impact of being so wired that family members no longer talk face-to-face, and students can no longer read properly or present themselves in public. It’s also about how Microsoft's Bill Gates cut his family down to no more than two hours per day on line, to include school work, due to Gates' fear that his kids were getting bored with regular life and being able to talk at the dinner table.

“Maushart cracked me up with her humor, and then floored me with her insight because I’m that mother too. Our family is fully wired, and I’m concerned and even frightened that I’m losing my kids to their cell phones and the computer,” says Letha Bierhorst and other parents who meet at the University of Oregon regularly to discuss parenting and technology.

The problem of cell phone seems to be growing

A Japanese study revealed that children with cell phones often don't make friends with their less tech-savvy peers, a Hungarian study found that three-fourths of children had mobile phones and an Italian study showed that one quarter of adolescents owned multiple phones and many claimed to be somewhat addicted to them. A British study also recently found that 36 percent of college students surveyed said they could not get by without cell phones.

“This may be more a sign that students view cell phones as a modern necessity like a car,” said David Sheffield, a psychologist who conducted the study at Staffordshire University in England.
Sheffield also noted that Internet addiction is widespread due to “people viewing technology as all good, with no down sides.”

Addiction also causes changes in the brain, but scientists have yet to measure what happens in the brains of cell phone users, he said.

Although cellular phones and personal digital assistants are marketed as a device to make one’s life easier, it’s an inconvenient truth that “this technology is actually beginning to interfere in the lives of users who don’t know when to turn them off,” says a psychologist who studies addictions to the Internet and other technologies.

Cell phones do much more than just phone calls

In addition to being a telephone, “cells” as they’re dubbed, also do a lot of “fun stuff” for kids who seem to be bored with such things as talking to parents, playing sports outside or anything non-tech, says Coos Bay mom of four Gina Wolcott.

Wolcott recently stopped by the “Pony Mall” in downtown Coos Bay to “check out all the gadgets that her kids wanted.

“I was surprised by all the additional stuff cells now offer,” she explained while pointing to a chart of accessories, such as SMS for text messages, e-mail and Internet access, gaming service and Bluetooth and infrared short range wireless communications.

“There’s a camera phone that my son wants, but why does he need more than just a phone that takes pictures,” she asks. “I mean there’s all this messaging, MP3 player and radio features. And even a GPS feature and he doesn’t even drive yet.”

Wolcott is concerned that with her son “not doing great in school,” that the distraction of having a cell phone that’s more or less code for a portable computer these days, “will only hurt him in school.”

And, she adds, “I have to hold my breath when he starts driving next year and has this thing (cell) with him all the time.”

Although the first handheld mobile phone was first used back in 1973, and weighed nearly five pounds, it’s become a “sort of cultural game changer,” say experts who’ve studied the phenomena.

Cell phones can lead to addiction, say experts

“It’s not so much talking on the phone that’s typically the problem, it’s this need to be connected, and to know what’s going on and be available to other people. That’s one of the hallmarks of cell phone addition,” says Lisa Merlo, a University of Florida psychologist who a frequent media source for technology issues.

Merlo also noted that “cell phone addicts” compulsively check their phones for voicemails and text messages. This time spent doing this “checking of the cell,” is time they are not devoting to listening to people and other person-to-person communications.

When cell phone overuse really becomes an issue is when “people have underlying anxiety or depression issues,” Merlo says.

One clue to possible cell phone or gadget addiction is when “people can’t be separated from their cell phones. Frequent users often become anxious when they are forced to turn off the phone or if they forget it at home, so much so that they can’t enjoy whatever they’re doing,” she adds.

Your cell phone may be hazardous to your health

In total, more than 270 million people subscribed to cellular telephone service last year in the United States. Officials with CTIA – the Wireless Association -- state that’s an increase from “110 million in 2000.”

While CTIA – a company that receives funding from wireless companies – states that cell phones do not pose a public health risk, others seem skeptical about a science that’s yet to be fully studied over a long period of time.

In 2009, Dr. Ronald B. Heberman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, sent a memo to more than 3,000 faculty and staff members warning them of cell phone cancer risks.

Heberman’s memo said “children should use cell phones only for emergencies because their brains were still developing and that adults should keep the phone away from the head and use a speakerphone or a wireless headset.”

“Scientific conclusions often take too long when it comes to the dangers of cell phones,” he said.

Comments

Submitted by Thea on
It's funny that I never really looked into or even considered parental controls with contract carriers - I just went straight to a prepaid company since I figured it would offer me the most control without taking a contract. I choose a company I saw often at Target, Net10, since the phones seemed well priced and I researched the network and found the coverage in my area was the best value. Since its prepaid, I am and continue to control how many minutes she has and no contract to hold her.

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