Screen-Time – What Are The Cautions?


Technology: True or False?

  • Technology allows us to be more efficient?
  • Technology allows us to be more connected?
  • Technology takes the anxiety out of communicating ?
  • Technology alleviates loneliness ?

According to Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and psychologist, and author of the eye-opening book, Alone Together, the answer to all of the above questions is false.  On a practical side, I realize that there are some advantages to technology. The obvious ones, such as: being able to work from a place other than the office, being able to communicate with friends and families overseas, learning educational information in a highly motivating way, researching any topic without having to go to the local library etc.  However, the negative side effects of becoming “technologized” are frightening.  Can you imagine people choosing to marry robots vs. another human being?  According to Sherry Turkle, robots will become so advanced that they will become a preferred companion for some people.   There would be no need to worry about conflict resolution, just marry someone who you can program to agree with you!  Robots won’t abandon, judge, die or exhaust you.

 How Does Technology Interfere with Identity Development for Adolescents?

 Erik Erikson’s stages of social development describe the teenage years as a time to search for one’s identity.  In the digital world, there is little time to be unplugged and in a place of stillness where one can connect to oneself and be authentic.  Instead, the on-line life creates increased angst to be “cool”.  One’s on-line profile has to be pre-meditated.  If I post this, will I get enough “likes”?  If I say this is my favourite movie, will I be seen as cool enough?  How can I get more “friends” on facebook to be seen as really popular?  Will 1000 “friends” be enough? If my friend doesn’t text back to my message, immediately, does this mean he/she’s mad at me?  According to Turkle, in January 2010, the average teen sent over 3000 text messages/month.

The Internet vs. Solitude

 We need solitude to feel refreshed and restored.  But if you don’t know how to feel peace in your own company, then this is not solitude.  “To experience solitude you must be able to summon yourself, by yourself, otherwise you will only know how to be lonely.” (Alone Together, p. 272)  Technology is making it very challenging to spend time in solitude without the buzz of a text.  Turkle explains that receiving a text or an e-mail gives our nervous system a shot of Dopamine.  We then like that feeling and want more, and begin to require it, even though it’s depleting.

How is Technology Inhibiting Identity Development? (from Alone Together)

  • Gaming – some people feel they lose their identify without their games
  • Parents are tethered to their teens by cell phones, creating a new kind of helicopter parent.  Some university students are texting their parents 20x/day (Alone Together,  Sherry Turkle)
  • The cell phone buffers the feeling of being alone and having to work problems out for oneself.
  • The purpose of adolescent development is to separate from parents and each other but teens are less independent due to technology

How is Technology Inhibiting Social Development?

Talking by telephone for many teens is considered, awkward.  One would only talk by phone if it was something that could not be communicated by text or if this person was a very close friend.  Phone calls are avoided because one doesn’t have enough time to plan out what to say, to edit, or delete, rather one has to respond in a spontaneous manner.  Technology buffers our vulnerability.  Many people would rather text than talk.  A social life via the internet allows one to hide one’s true self.  Technology seems to fill the void of loneliness but does not create intimacy and leaves people more lonely when they are not plugged in.  The net is taking away solitude.  Vulnerability is more defended as dating is initiated by text and relationships are ended by text.  Special announcements are no longer personal announcements, but texts and facebook messages.

 How Does Technology Affect Connection/Attachment?

 At first it seems positive to have the ability to be continuously connected, but then it becomes evident that we rarely have the other’s full attention.  Children often get really upset with their parents for “not listening” because their parents are distracted by texting, cell phone calls, computer time etc.  Work now spills over into weekends and family evening time as the boundaries between work hours and “off-hours” become blurred.  Technology becomes the new attachment, as parents spend more time using technology than with their children. Children are growing up with parents pushing swings while texting, eating dinner while texting, having a story read to them while being interrupted by the phone.

Parents are tantalizingly close but mentally elsewhere.

~ Dr. Sherry Turkle

The internet gives a “hit” of “connection”, but not real connection.  Lonely people then further seek out internet connection and become more detached from having real people around them.  As one becomes overwhelmed by hundreds of emails and texts, it becomes more than one can manage, and the result is replying with quick impersonal responses or not replying at all.  Sometimes one replies instantaneously and with intense emotion, without taking enough time (ie. 24 hours) to consider the response.

 Technology Knows No Boundaries

According to Turkle’s research, people are no longer as present with each other.  Even in a meeting, there are the subtle, frequent glances down to one’s phone.  The internet always provides the opportunity to be elsewhere.  Even the ring of a cell phone, takes away someone’s attention as they glance to see who it is or turn their phone off.  In the previous generations of paper mail, an envelope wasn’t opened in the middle of a meeting, family dinners were demarked by a designated room for eating together, at the end of the day one changed out of work clothes into home clothes, and one was not responding to work problems after work hours.

Avatar Life and “Multi-Lifing”

Sherry Turkle predicts that the next generation will encounter a variety of relationships, some with pets, others with people, some with avatars, some with computer agents on screens and still others with robots.  Identifying with one’s Avatar may give the feeling of increased confidence as one tries out new roles, but this other “life” is not authentic and does not involve one’s true self.  The internet Avatar world, “Second Life” creates a “realistic” world where one can build an avatar, a house, a family and a social life.  People tend to make their avatars younger, thinner, richer, better dressed etc.  One can become more emotionally connected to a “spouse avatar” than one’s own spouse. One begins to feel more comfortable and accepted by this virtual “spouse” even though each person has never met the other person’s true self.  Suddenly, one is “multi-lifing” as Turkle describes it, trying to keep up with real life, Second Life, Facebook profiles, and other social media lives.

 If this article has created some new awareness for you, then I highly recommend reading Alone Together, watching Sherry Turkle’s Ted Talk: Connected but Alone?  (which has over two million views) and reading her article from the NY Times, titled Flight From Conversation.

I look forward to further exploring the world of technology with you next week, and would love to hear your comments about technology and Sherry Turkle’s findings, in the comment box below.




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