We are raising a a generation of digital natives. Our children have the unique distinction of being the most online generation, they also spend a considerable part of their lives online. While that may sound like fun, in reality, it is more a cause of worry than anything else. It is getting increasingly difficult to see kids playing outdoors now. Are we raising a generation of screen slaves?
I have a teenage son. He is the most internet savvy person at home, this despite the fact that I am a tech blogger and a social media analyst. For him, a day without the internet is unimaginable. Whenever he is at home, me and my wife try our level best to get him to do something outdoors or physical. More often than not, that never happens. He is out and about for sometime, but that is never anywhere near the time we spent out as young people growing up. How did this happen?
The first reason as I see it that has led to this happening is the fact that hardware today is very cheap and affordable. Acquiring a computer, tablet or a smartphone is not a very difficult thing anymore. So every home has multiple touch points to the internet. The next factor is the deep penetration of the internet into our lives. Broadband access is a cinch now and there are very many simple ways to get online. In India, mobile broadband has become extremely affordable and people using 1 GB data every day online has become something of a norm. So putting both these things together, kids have easy access to devices and they have broadband that is always on and at their fingertips. Given their age and propensity to consume information and content, that is a potent mix of reasons to keep them hooked.
Another important factor that can explain why our kids are more hooked to the internet than we ever were is the nature of online information exchange that happens today. In my days, the fastest and most engaging means of online interactions were email and online chats. With people you know, you exchanged emails very much like the written letters of the good old days. Then to discover new people you had to have one of those Instant Messaging Chat Clients from Yahoo or other providers. It was like the holy grail to make friends online. But cut to today and the whole online landscape has undergone a sea change. We have this thing called social media that has very effectively railroaded its way into our lives and changed them forever.
For most part, social media is like email on crack. You just have to go online and ask, you have an immediate plethora of information that flows steadily into you. The sheer depth and crazy frequency of updates means that there are always updates and people are always listening or talking. Now put a teenager into this mix and you will see how that is like keeping fire and fuel together.
We used to go out and talk to our friends, kids today whatsapp or tweet or ping them from their smartphones. I used to visit friends to exchange music, pictures and other such stuff and these meetings were strong bond builders. Today’s children have the smartphone literally obliterating the need to meet anyone physically for this. It’s all on your phone. Even the movies and TV shows that were a reason for social gathering are now streamed online and can be watched on-demand.
So, in effect, we have created a series of screens that are connected to the internet that are serving up things that hitherto mandated healthy social interactions and bond building. It is this over whelming scenario that our children are growing up in and more often than not, getting completely lost in. The joys of joint study groups have been replaced by google searches and coffee shop chats are now a thing of the past, whatsapp is in and Instagram has replaced album browsing sessions. A reason to worry for sure!
Are we raising a generation of screen slaves? Well the above information should give you the answer. If you are still in doubt, try taking away the smartphone and internet access from your teenage kid and you will get your answer. What are your thoughts about this? Let me know!