Tech Sevarage!

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Dependence on instant text messaging and social networking websites is perhaps one of the most common traits that today’s teens share. Take a brief glance around a room full of young people and you will often see more people texting or typing than engaging in face-to-face conversation.

Most teens would agree that virtual communication doesn’t replace seeing people in person, however, the vast majority of us would be taken aback by the suggestion of putting away our portable electronic devices away for a month in order to focus on the people and the activities being conducted around us.

This very suggestion was made to me recently when I recieved the student handbook for a science/entrepreuneurship program I will be attending at Lakehead University during summer 2011. True to my generation, I considered it with great intrepidation. Throughout the program, other participants and I will have access to the internet only through computers in computer rooms; the residence we will be staying in doesn’t offer internet connection. This means that my access to email will be limited, that Facebook and favorite news sites will be cast aside for the month, and that the irrepressible urge to google topics I want to know more about will have to be repressed, at least while away from the computer room.

However, it also means that other participants and I will be kicking our internet habit, perhaps for the first time since early teenagehood, and spending more time actually mentally present in our environment, conversing and enjoying each other’s company.

The average teenager spends several hours daily in front of some type of screen. Screen time is not necessarily poorly used–homework, reading, checking email inboxes, and chatting with friends can all be done through a screen—but, it is an inadequate replacement for other activities and can sometimes be distracting. No one would ever check his mailbox five times a day while waiting for an important letter, but many wouldn’t hesistate to check their email inbox five times in a single hour while waiting for an important email.

Instant web-based communication and telecommunication have their merits. They’re highly efficient and render frequent communication with a broader circle of people possible. However, they shouldn’t drain our time and attention and replace face-to-face interaction.

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on April 9th, 2011.


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