Nokia, a firm that makes electronic products, reported that cell phone users were checking their devices 150 times a day. Pew Research reported that young adults are sending an average of 110 text messages per day. A survey by another firm, Tecmark, excluded single purpose cell phones and considered only “smart phone” usage and found that people were checking their devices 221 times per day.
What do we gain by this obsession? What do we lose? In a bygone era, we gathered to bowl or play cards or chess or play pool or play a sport. We came together at social events where we talked to friends and neighbors. There isn’t much humanness in an electronic screen. If you were stranded on a remote island with only an electronic device for company, you would surely be lonely. Are we in the process of becoming stranded in a crowd of people, isolated from friends and neighbors?
Celebrities employ public relations agents who attempt to promote and maintain a particular image for the celebrity among fans who are unknown to the celebrity. That public image may differ considerably from the real person. Now, we are seeing young people promoting an image of themselves on the internet. Some of the information that people post about themselves can be a self-inflicted wound. A Harris Poll conducted in 2016 determined that 60 percent of employers check online social media when they are screening job applicants, and 49 percent of those employers have rejected an applicant because of the information posted online.
There are other disturbing issues associated with electronic devices. Professor Sam Wineburg, supervisor of a Stanford Graduate School of Education study, reports “a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the internet. Young students, for example, had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from… .” Nancy Colier writing in her book, The Power of Off, states that “…texting while driving is now the leading cause of death among teen drivers, taking 3,000 lives per year and causing 300,000 injuries… .” LTC Dave Grossman, US Army (Ret.) was a psychology instructor at the West Point Military Academy. He is now a consultant to police departments. He expresses a concern that young people who play violent video games are adversely affected by that form of entertainment. LTC Grossman makes a book length argument in Assassination Generation that many of the school shootings and other violent incidents in recent years are related to obsessive use of violent video games. He writes “…violent video games…are warping the minds and behavior of children around the world.” “…these games…teach millions of children to derive pleasure from human suffering.” “…violent media consumers [display] a severely limited ability to process rational thought.”
According to Michigan Medicine, an online information program sponsored by the University of Michigan, “An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18.”
Many useful things can be used inappropriately. Explosives are very useful for construction projects but can also be used to kill people. Trucks are a vital part of our economy but can also be rammed into a crowd of people. Prescription medicines are very useful but can be misused. Electronic devices are convenient and very useful, but they can be misused to our detriment. Some old fashioned discipline might be appropriate.
Jack Stevenson is retired, served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Currently, he reads history, follows issues important to Americans, and writes commentary for community newspapers.