What is it doing to us?

I am listening to the Nerdist podcast with Paula Poundstone, yes, I know I am behind in my listening by about a month. It wasn’t a hugely fascinating podcast for most of it. I am not a huge comedy nerd, so some of the guests, like Paula, are out of my element. But as usual there are still nuggets of each podcast that catch my attention. Sometimes I have to stop and rewind after realizing that there was something they were talking about that was hugely relevant to my life or my interests. There were two of these nuggets in this episode so far.

Interesting to me but not as gripping, the first was about decluttering one’s life. It’s something that I’ve been doing little by little. Good, good. Meaningful, but it wasn’t the big thing that caught me.

What caught my ear was when I heard them start talking about digital addiction. Being someone who is trying to de-digitalize their life, my ears perked up. I had to rewind to recall where the conversation came from.

Paula was talking about dealing with her son’s addiction to electronics and the issues that it has caused. Because of this, she had done the research into this arena. Plenty of research to speak authoritatively to some degree on the topic. Of the things she spoke of, she noted that her son says that he still has the urge. She says that she doesn’t have the urge to drink any longer despite having been an addict herself. Hmmm…

I have not been seriously addicted to anything of the sort of drugs or alcohol, so my ability to relate 100% is not there. But I do know a little something about the draw towards digital devices. Afterall, if a phone or tablet is near me, I am drawn to it. I do not have to have any reason to look at it, I will just grab it. I open it. I click on apps. This often happens automatically before my brain kicks in and I throw the phone down. So when she speaks of these devices being purposely engineered to cause addiction, I understand this to be true. It operates as truth in my own life. And what is it doing to us? To our kids?

Fortune has it, and under no doing of my own, my son doesn’t gravitate to electronics as much as I would have expected. He owns a few, but in many cases, like yesterday, he will be fine up in his room building legos. Or reading. Or bugging me to take him to a park. Not to say that there aren’t times that he is zoned into a device, because that happens a lot. It just doesn’t happen to a degree that I am panicked about. Yet…

It isn’t until around 25 years old that a person’s brain is fully developed. (One of a few sources, look in the 3rd paragraph: http://www.bbbgeorgia.org/brainTimeAdolescence.php) Before that time frame it means that the brain is continuously mold-able. Think about the ability for adults to change behaviors, ingraining new habits into their daily life. Well multiply that ability and the capability to be influenced by external factors. Factors such as exposure to electronic devices, or drugs, etc. Having a child glued to a phone or tablet… what is that doing to their brain development? Having those permeate through our schools? Wow.

Reading the blog Nir & Far, you can learn a little on how these apps (games and otherwise) are being made to be habit forming. On purpose. I do not believe under ANY circumstances that this deliberate attempt to design habit formation into these devices is nefarious. When I write a book, the goal is to draw in readers and hook that reader into the story. The only difference is that reading has shown to improve mental function whereas electronics are not showing the same favorability. I do not believe that there is fault in this, but how do we fix it?

Not being an expert, I cannot suggest a viable solution. What I can say is that we do need to find ways to break ourselves away from these devices. And our children too. We see the ails of the addiction in everyday life. Endless selfies. Texting while driving. Dinner dates where we stare at the cell phone rather than our date. Distractions. Like-seeking. The endless cries for attention and meaning in this crazy world. None of us are free of it. And that’s the scary part.

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