Oh my! I have forgotten my phone. I have to go back and get it!’ is a lament heard over and over again. The phone has become an essential and integral part of our existence. This is not just kids we are talking about. The adult world has the mobile phone as a natural body extension and cannot imagine life without it. I am 55 years old. The world wide web went live on the 6th of August 1991 when I was already 27 years old and while the first demo of the mobile phone happened in 1973, it was between 1983 and 2014 when its popularity raged. During that time worldwide mobile phone subscriptions grew to over 7 billion users. I had my first mobile phone in 1995 and I have never been without one since. Not for a single day since. The ways I use the mobile has expanded, the amount of time I use it for extended and what I use it for has exploded. The attachment and addiction is worldwide. It is not only kids who are the victims of the digital world. Something like the internet that has only been in existence for about two and half decades has changed the way we do almost everything. We are dependent.
Things are changing for our world and that too, at an alarming pace when it comes to technology and the advancement it is bringing with it. Every field is having to incorporate some changes to stay relevant and up to date which it is not an easy task. The educational sector is no different.
All changes are resisted by the community, even in the educational space. It took 200 years for the printed textbooks to enter our schools after the printing press was invented. People thought that children’s brains would deteriorate if they would have been allowed to have any information in print and they would not need to work their memory.
Similarly, when the television came into play, parents thought it would only clutter the brains of their children with useless content. But look at the screen time we all get today and the variety of content available at our disposals. Not just kids, most humans who have access are in some way addicted to technology, whether it is to consume content, create the same or interact with others. Technology has changed the way we learn, play and socialise; and children are learning to use it to their benefit.
When it comes to the use of internet, most adults these days have adapted to the net, as it was found and became prominent during their lifetime. Whereas, children today are being born into it. Their world already is more connected and smaller, as well as the access to information is unlimited due to the availability of internet.
I personally cannot remember the last time I spent a full day without the use of internet or technology. When us adults, as the older and wiser generation are unable to resist the pull of technology given our experience and qualities of limiting and regulating learnt with time; no wonder it is difficult for the next generation.
The pull is real and has taken root within the society unlike anything else. Checking messages, updating statuses, sending an email, making just another move in a game or reading another article before one goes off to sleep; different members of the society have different reasons to give in. Expecting children to regulate and limit use of technology is not a fair ask on our behalf, when we ourselves are still learning it.
Members of the society have at various occasions brought up the concern about the addiction technology is creating. It is clear from the way new generations are adapting the digital age that technology itself is not the object of addiction. Children are addicted to the fact that they can create with greater ease, connect with so many and explore so much through the medium of technology. That seems like a justified enough reason to give in to the pull of the digital era.
Technology is exposing children and offering them with a chance of experiencing things they might not be able to see, feel, hear or touch in the real world. Very simply put, it is giving them a chance to revisit things on a later date by saving them, improve performances where applicable and sharing with the world in case of achievements and experiences.
Today, we don’t have a choice in the matter of whether our kids should embrace the digital, rather we need to pave the path in order to introduce technology into our children’s lives and then find the right balance to allow it to permeate because the use of the same is definitely achieving results and taking the world in a new direction.
The whole medium of technology or the digital world in other words work for the human brain for 3 reasons. Firstly, the digital is providing us with something that our brain loves. This is our cognitive bias. Whether it is Netflix, Google or Instagram, with the help of data mining and analysis, they throw up more of what our brain already has an inclination towards in order to attract our attention.
Secondly, when we play digital games, etc. it does not judge us or fix our scores. It in fact allows us to keep improving. You start at the bottom and keep working your way up. It also generally pits you at the same range of skills and competency you operate in ‘in the optimum zone of challenge’ which is self-picked without any bias and can be re-picked after further evaluation.
Thirdly, every human craves for connection. The digital platforms give you just that. They are a medium to stay connected to more people and also interact with more people. You can stay abreast with what others are doing and what the world has to offer.
Thus, it should not come as a surprise if kids have an in-built affinity towards extensive use of technology.
The solution is for the first time to embrace what is here to stay and to work with what works for us. We can use technology and the digital medium to pull kids towards learning by Gamifying the learning and making it interactive in nature as well.
At the same time we will have to teach kids to safeguard against the downfalls of social media, over consumption of content and brain influencing techniques that the digital world has learned from the marketing world and uses to addict us.
Studies have shown that children who use educational media learn more in the short term (Penuel et al., 2009) and do better in school later on, as compared to children who do not (Anderson, Huston, Schmitt, Linebarger, & Wright, 2001). Research has also demonstrated that using educational media with adult guidance leads to greater learning than if used alone in an unregulated environment (Reiser, Tessmer, & Phelps, 1984).
The digital world is a tool, and a very powerful and effective one at that. The tool is a just that, a tool; to create or destroy with it, depends on the one wielding the tool. Technology is neutral, thus it is important that children develop a healthy relationship with it in order to use its positives to bring about an enhanced learning space while growing up.
According to a report on a survey last year named ‘Social Media, Social Life’ “across every measure in the survey, teens are more likely to say that social media has a positive rather than a negative effect on how they feel.”
The report also mentions that children are super annoyed with their friends who don’t get off social media in presence of company and with parents who cannot look up from their phones. This is definitely one step forward when it comes to self-realisation of the perils of technology. Children seem to be on a course of understanding and dealing with the world they have been brought into.
Technology is pretty amazing, given the zillion number of things it can help human beings do and achieve and we should definitely embrace all it has to offer. But knowing its perils, avoiding them and recognizing its power as well as passing all this knowledge to the generations to come is also a burden that falls onto us.
(Author Ms Lina Ashar is founder of Kangaroo Kids and Billabong high. Views expressed here are personal.)