I wish that I could call this Salon article (http://bit.ly/16kcKXs) provocative, but it's not really telling us anything we don't already know about the tech world and how it changes us.
Titled "Tech is killing childhood," with the teaser "Time spent on gadgets could be hampering kids' ability to connect to each other and the ‘real' world," Catherine Steiner-Adair's piece, an excerpt from her book "The Big Disconnect," appears to be alarmist at first, but a full reading finds it touching on valid nerves that not enough people do.
The first case study in the argument is one of sexual bullying via email. This is, of course, a horrible thing, but we all know that bullying exists outside of email and has for thousands of years. But as the article continues, it moves from alarmist to alarming, proposing that it's not the bombastic incidents that are the problem, it's the ways general everyday behavior and the way we relate to each other are altered -- including our lives in the "real" world.
Steiner-Adair is following up on territory previously discussed in "The Shallows," Nicholas Carr's excellent book about how digital culture effects our brains -- in a scientific way. The idea is that technological advances have an effect on the neuro-plasticity of our brains, that tech changes communication. The printing press changed writing, as did the typewriter, and now computers have changed it as well. These shifts change our brains, as well, and one of the most significant ways it does this is in the area of contemplation.
Remember contemplation? It's come to a point where no one has it anymore, so you have to actually carve contemplation time out, usually in the form of meditation, yoga, exercise -- particularly jogging.
I was thinking of how little contemplation time we have recently while watching a four-year-old negotiate an iPad all day. Games kept her busy, streaming television kept her busy -- noise, colors, of course. But books also keep kids busy -- books that talk, books that move. A standard, dead tree book just sits there and demands you do the work -- a book on the iPad has to tap dance and fart rainbows to keep your attention.
I was also thinking how too many entertainment apps, as well as interactive ebooks, are gender-marketed. Girls love princesses and they are marketed to girls with a vengeance, on screens, and become not diversion, but experience.
With that as a daily reality, I couldn't help but agree with Steiner-Adair's article -- and couldn't help but think that it's been on the rise since before computers were household items and smartphones were in everybody's pocket. Well, I say pocket, but what I mean is, in their hand, constantly being used. Cable television and its cornucopia of endless, mindless diversions made staring at a screen all day and all night causal, acceptable, but it confined everything to our homes.
The main idea Steiner-Adair discusses, though, is how what passes as common and accessible online seeps into the off-line attitudes, exposing kids to adult behaviors at an early age and working to abolish that contemplation time of life -- commonly called "childhood" -- and taint growing up with further, institutional racism, sexism, bullying, misogyny and an inability to define yourself on your own terms rather than someone else's.
A recent study in Sweden revealed that 10 percent of Swedish boys watch porn everyday, thanks to the miracle of the Internet (http://bit.ly/1cNuv41).
The British paper the Independent wrote about a recent study (http://ind.pn/14bOlOd) that showed 13 percent of kids aged 10 to 13 had seen photos of their friends drunk on Facebook. That rises to 40 percent once you raise the ceiling age to 17.
Meanwhile in Japan, excessive texting while walking has sparked safety warnings (bbc.in/13k7Qtc) after incidents of "Aruki Sumaho" -- the Japanese phrase for smartphone walking -- resulted in 18 people falling off train platforms while texting.
And German film director Werner Herzog has made headlines for his haunting PSA (http://bit.ly/14xYd3X) about texting while driving, which causes 1.6 million accidents a year in the United States and is against the law in many states.
Herzog told the Canadian Press, "There's a completely new culture out there I see there's something going on in civilization which is coming with great vehemence at us."
And with Herzog, we come full circle -- the bombastic event highlights the everyday dominance of digital culture on all of us.
It's far too big a topic to capture in a newspaper column, and anything I write here is only the tip of something so huge that it's intangible. But it is time to seize some of that reflection time we've cast away from our everyday life and use it to figure out how to manage this new intangible world we've created without demonizing it across the board and solving nothing.
John Seven is the Transcript's arts and entertainment editor. He blogs at blogs.thetranscript.com/arts.