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   Volume 6 | Issue 02 | January 15, 2012 |


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A Question for Teenagers and Screenagers:
Slow Down. You're Moving Too Fast

Asrar Chowdhury

Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

How long would it take you to read the first Post Campus of 2012? Would it be ten minutes to read 1,000 words? Wait. Before you scoot off: is 10 minutes really 10 minutes? How many times would you be distracted? The mobile phone buzzes. An SMS is waiting; or somebody is calling. You could be in front of a screen via a PC, laptop, smart phone, tablet, or an eBook reader. Then you are probably already connected to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and have multiple pages on your browser open. You could also be in a chat room and are also following a live cricket match from where you are reading this Post Campus and multi-tasking all at the same time. This is the digital generation Dan Bloom coined as the 'Screenager'.

In the US, children as young as five are spending six hours each day in front of a screen. In 2009, adults in the US spent double the time online than they did in 2004. In the UK, average adults spend 45% of their waking time on digital media and communication. In Bangladesh too, the digital generation is growing in numbers and also growing across age groups. Sorry. Teenagers are not the only Screenagers as Dan Bloom defined. People way into the afternoon of their lives are also joining the digital highway. We have an answer to the problem though. Denial is not a solution. The digital era is here to stay. How we approach and embrace the digital era is where the question lies.

Rapid development of the internet and digital communication is influencing our lifestyle and leading to fundamental changes and remodeling of our brain. Today we are so much connected and available that we have little time to think about anything deep. Susan Greenfield at Oxford has shown that when children do something they like, e.g., play an electronic game, the brain receives dopamine- a hormone that stimulates thinking. Too much dopamine, however, can affect the reasoning of the brain and hinder the development of an original mind. Multi-tasking is diminishing our ability to concentrate and adversely affecting our ability to think and make decisions.

Computers have made us fast and have saved time. Reading on a computer screen is fast and ideal to spot facts and points. Reading on a piece of paper is slow, but suited to understand an overall concept. Today eBooks are becoming widely available and inexpensive. With abundance arises the danger that we may consider eBooks as a disposable product like chewing gum that needs to be consumed quickly and flash through them without taking time to go through their content. This will adversely affect deep thinking. Digital communication restricts us to think deeply with a single focus. We are constantly in an environment of multi-tasking and/or in an environment where we are expressing thoughts in 160 or 140 characters.

The digital era is also making us increasingly restless. Our attention and relationships are becoming atomised, casual and anonymous. We are communicating via SMS, email, Facebook, and Twitter. We have countless online friends, and decreasing number of people we actually communicate with. We can change our relationship with the click of the mouse in Facebook. The digital era is endangering us to become a society that is globally connected and collaborative, but one that is also alienated from reality and human feelings. We are also becoming a society that has plenty of answers, but very few original questions. Stop. Do we have the time to think about original questions anymore?

This is not futuristic fiction. This is reality.

The first Post Campus of 2012 argued at the outset that denial is not a solution. If we have a headache then cutting the head off is not a solution. A knife can cook a sumptuous dish. That same knife can also cause a tragic death. One cannot praise or blame the knife for its consequence. The holder of the knife is the person who decides what the knife will do. The internet and the digital era have come for the better and are here to stay. We need to think how to harness their power and energy.

Why not think about slowing down? Not always, but once in a while. Why not sometimes get used to the thought that ALL communication and decision making does not have to be done right now? Quality requires time, concentration and dedication. Looking at a screen all the time and multi-tasking makes it increasingly impossible to do quality thinking. Curious, playful, imaginative and deep minds are the ones that dream big ideas and express them crisply to others that too make them think in ponder and awe. This is the mind that is at threat if as a society and as a species we fail to harness the power and the potential of the internet and the digital era. The internet and the digital era are like the salt in our foodessential for our existence, but disastrous if there is too much. Less can sometimes be more.

In evolutionary science the fittest who survive are not those who can fight and are strong, but those who can adapt with changing environments. Whether we can and how we do adapt with an ever changing and rapidly changing internet and digital era is the question to Teenagers and Screenagers in 2012. “Slow down. You're moving too fast”!

(The author teaches economic theory at Jahangirnagar University and North South University.)

Source: Richard Watson. Future Minds. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 2010

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012