The discussions about screens (primarily phones, but tablets, computers, television, etc.) and their impact in our lives are ramping up. The number of articles and research projects related to this topic is increasing. And nearly all of these sources share news that is not good. We are becoming addicted to screens. They are hurting child development. We are losing our human connections with others. Our mental health is in peril. I see headlines such as these nearly every day in my feeds of educational technology articles.
Yet it seems to me that there is not a lot of nuance in these findings. Intuitively, there seems there should be more to the message than simply “screens are bad.” This is not an attempt to refute current research, but rather to raise questions that don’t seem to be asked enough right now. To that end, here are three things that I believe should be addressed in any discussion about screens:
- All screen time is not equal: Many of the research studies lump all screen time together as they post their findings. Is using FaceTime with my daughter the same as watching a YouTube video? When I am messaging with a colleague about an education issue, is that screen usage the same as scanning my Twitter feed? My time usage away from technology does not have equal value. Why aren’t we always making similar distinctions with screens?
- Creation vs. Consumption: Similar to the first point, in reading current research it appears that the vast majority of concerns about screens come from consumption more than creation. Dr. Bernard Bull, a mentor of mine, first pointed me toward this distinction many years ago. Isn’t it time we more fully reflected upon not simply our total time with technology but also our usage patterns?
- We have control: So much blame for the negative impact of technology is placed elsewhere. Apple is leading us to become more addicted to our devices. Facebook is manipulating our lives. Twitter feeds exploits our craving for hits of dopamine. While there may be truth to each one of these statements on some level, this does not mean that we are only subject to the whims of corporate American. We have control of our own lives and technology usage. We can make informed decisions and then act on these decisions. We can choose to use screens mindfully. Any writing that seeks to place blame for the misuse of screens with other entities FIRST ignores individual opportunity and responsibility.
So the next time you read about the impact of screens on people, in articles such as this, be sure to embrace the messiness of nuance by considering these three points in your conversations with others.