So many of us go on and on about how the internet and addiction to our devices is negatively impacting us. Although, the truth is that we don’t know what we don’t know!
I sound old when I tell young people, “when I was young…there was no Internet! And no cell phones!” I coveted Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone marvelling at how convenient it would be! The kids smile but can’t possible imagine a world without this technology. Our world has us more connected, yet more isolated than ever before.
Imagine this – the Internet was made available to the public in 1991, and high speed internet was offered only within the past 15 years. Cell phones were sold in 1997, and Smart phones in 2011. We’ve been around for over 2000 years, and it’s only within the past 25 years that we were introduced to this modern technology. That is not that much time!
We all talk about how damaging our technological devices are to our lives – with people lost in their phones, never looking up to connect to their surroundings and the people within it. Kids are addicted to video games. Cyberbullying is on the rise. Employees are expected to work any time of the day, from anywhere in the world. There is no escaping this new way of engaging, and of living. Yet, the truth is that we don’t actually have any empirical evidence supporting our beliefs.
After all, there is no historical precedent for how the internet and devices will affect us humans, and the societies we live in. We have gut feelings, and some data, but humans have never lived the life we are all living now.
Yet some facts are telling: there is a 30% rise in depression in youth, and 30% rise in suicide. When I’m with students, they are counting the minutes until they can intently immerse themselves in their smart phones. I’ll ask them if they’ve been outside in the past few days to play, or walk, or hike, or swim and most say ‘no’. They let me know that they don’t know what to do, and that their devices offer immediate gratification and that they simply don’t want to leave them.
I don’t care about empirical data – I know: technology is having a negative impact on the social and emotional lives of our youth. It doesn’t take a genius to notice the difference in today’s kids – and their desire to connect, but their inability to do so and fear of social discomfort.
We need to connect to others, and form healthy relationships to feel happier and healthier. What are we doing to encourage young people to connect?
We don’t know what the future will bring but at this point, I’m worried. I’ll continue to educate youth and adults about the importance of lifting their heads up, making eye contact, and simply enjoying other people in real time.