E-views: Technology, the untended doorway

Jan. 14, 2011

Each day most of us step out of our beds and into a literal torrent of electronic information.

With the average person receiving a large portion of their information from Internet and electronic media sources, it becomes imperative to research and report on the impact of the e-information blitzing through our community.

As an investigator, I'd like to begin by posing some questions.

My first and foremost goal is to question how the quantity and the changing value and delivery systems, inherent to these new information sources, shape the minds and behaviors of my fellow community members.

Within this line of examination are literally hundreds of smaller questions and ideas I hope to explore.

What better way to begin this journey than with an ongoing column where questions, research, data, opinions and solutions may find an audience and stir discussion.

To introduce our readers to this experimental forum, the following research results may provide food for both personal reflection and write-in responses.

According to "Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds" (a study series funded by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation) our children's exposure to electronic media continues to increase at a substantial rate.

Conversely, those youth exposed to increasing amounts of media are showing a growing negative effect on personal contentment and, unsurprisingly, school grades.

In reviewing the 2010 study graphics, a striking single piece of information jumps out.

In the last 10 years, the average 8- to 18-year-old is now exposed to three additional hours of electronic media content per day.

Given that humans, even highly technologically savvy ones, have limits to their attention span and limits to their capacity for absorbing stimuli; the next two questions seem obvious.

One - If we have limited storage space for our intellectual and emotional attention, what is being "thrown out" by our brains in order to accommodate the incoming flood?

Two - Are children and teens likewise receiving increased exposure to parental guidance and communication in equal proportion?

How will this shifting proportion of "inputs" to the minds of our youth - and adults - affect their emotional, mental and spiritual development over time?

When I became a parent in the 1990s, I recall a great piece of wisdom posed by another writer whose name, sadly, has now been displaced by a new set of blog authors.

That piece likened the growing e-media phenomenon to an open, mostly unsupervised, door into one's home.

With great worst-case-scenario foresight, the writer posed the following thought: "Who would leave a child home alone with a rotating series of complete strangers, giving them full, unfiltered access to that child's mind and body for five to six hours a day?"

And that was before we had Internet-capable cell phones to travel with our children through every waking hour.

It does give pause.

Exactly what kind of un-discussed experiment are we conducting here?

Is anyone else concerned?

We invite those of you interested in media, children and community to respond.

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