On Children, Technology and Social Media

Even some people as young as thirty can remember a time when computers, mobile telephones and the internet did not dominate our lives.  All of these things actually existed three decades ago in fact but the scale, and our knowledge of them, was strictly limited.

At the turn of the 1990s there were already a few who possessed a mobile phone.  True it wasn’t particularly mobile as it required some physical strength to carry it around.  By far the most common model was made by Motorola, was shaped like a house brick and featured a large rubber aerial, several inches long, which protruded menacingly from the top.  Too large to be stored in the pocket, the handset was usually clipped to a trouser belt. Any user who attempted to tie their laces whilst forgetting the presence of phone and said aerial was exposing themselves to the risk of some real physical damage.

Computers and the Internet

Computers had begun to present themselves in some households too.  Usually they were made by Amstrad, and were really word processors rather than computers in the modern sense of the word.  As they were able to provide both justified text and some rudimentary gaming applications such as the legendary Space Invaders they were considered quite revolutionary in their day.

As for the internet, well it had been invented but most of us had never heard of it.  The most adventurous amongst us began to invest in desktops and e-mail systems towards the end of the 1990s, but as few other people owned them there weren’t many people to send e-mails to to begin with.

Children of the Revolution

Today of course so much has changed.  Most households have not only at least one desktop or laptop computer but also several mobile handsets. Each of them with internet capability allowing them not only to send e-mails but also to watch videos, download music and perform all manner of other functions.  And send texts. Lots of them.

And then of course there’s social media.  Facebook in particular, and its associated Messenger application, has become the communications methods of choice to such an extent that it is not unusual to see a group of children all sitting literally side by side, at a bus shelter or in the park, communicating with one another electronically rather than by using the old-fashioned method of actually physically speaking to one another.

Technology and Education

The challenge for parents is obvious, and not inconsiderable.  We realise there is no going back to the old ways of the postcard and the red telephone box, even if that were a good thing.  To some extent at least, most of us use the new technology ourselves. But we remain concerned by the way children seem to bury themselves in their handsets.  A recent study in the US improbably claimed that some children are able to make at least rudimentary use of a mobile phone handset before they have even learned to talk!

There is a balance to be struck, as always.  The challenge to us as parents is to get the balance right, and to ensure that our young ones do not completely lose the ability to function manually and in the real world.