Browsing life with gadgets
- June 1, 2012
Seeing a small child, as small as a 2-year-old, playing with a cell phone or an iPad is no more a rarity. Sensing my anxiety, a friend explained, “We are immigrant ‘gadgeteers’, while the children are the natives!” I wonder if I am being an old romantic when I feel they ought to be turning pages of a book, or playing with toys or better still playing outdoors in the neighbourhood. Not their fault, as often it is the parents who make them gadget-addicts, to keep them out of their hair. It might sound like I am over-reacting to the world of devices, but they are not to be underestimated, as their impact is manifold and all-pervasive.
My son, who is not even 2 years old, before I know will be dexterous with these gadgets and will make me feel like a dinosaur. While the benefits of the new technology are often touted, the concerns are no less substantive. Devices and the ‘on demand’ access they provide can lead to attention deficits and an inability to deal with the frustrations and joys of discovering the real world.
I can see myself being torn between protecting my son from the onslaught of technology and giving him the freedom to explore all that is available. Others will say, “Just leave him alone and let him do what he wants.” Of course he will, but as grown-ups, we are the ones who will be giving them the choices to choose from. And I don’t want to abdicate that responsibility. Exposure to gadget will be inevitable, but it is the other natural experience that will need a conscious exposure. Feeling sand beneath one’s feet, getting wet in the rain, watching the sun go down, reading a book and putting a leaf in it as a bookmark, returning home sweaty and dirty with mud all over, and all the fun things that we did as children, may not just be nostalgia.
The impact of devices on grown-ups is probably different in nature, but still not all benign. Some social scientists believe that our gadget-filled life is leading to the paradox of being over connected yet with minimal human contact and have called it the “echo chamber” effect. With ubiquitous access to information and familiar people, one tends to read and connect with only like-minded people. So all you hear is the “echo” of what you already believe in. The new world alternatives like blogs and web sites are most often read because the reader already concurs with the bias of the author. I recently read that, on the web we often see what we like, and like what we see. There is a real danger of us never having to contend with differing thoughts and, therefore, there are fewer opportunities for reflections.
On a recent trip to the wonderful Hay Literary Festival in Wales, surrounded by writers, I wondered whether turning of the page was more of nostalgia or was there real merit in that. I heard philosopher A.C. Grayling talk about the importance of listening, citing the example of Socrates and his long lectures to his students. We have come a long way from listening, to reading, to searching anything and everything on the net. But to search something, we already must know it. What is the digital equivalent of accidentally browsing a book in the library? Or the experience of running into Socrates in a public square?! Discovery of the unknown forces us to examine life and makes the world we live in, more interesting. So how do we make sure this is not lost?
Today we have a real challenge at hand—to flow with the times and not get stuck in old methods of learning, or preempt the harm these gadgets may cause and give at least the children a wider choice to choose from. I would go with the latter, as there is no substitute for real life experiences. Guess life was much simpler when Apple and Blackberry were just fruits!