Using social media is a big topic at work these days. Some studies show it to be a productivity killer in the workplace, and most companies have some policy to govern usage of blogs, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Theories abound about how social media is creating information overload, how it's connecting us in more meaningless ways while ruining our "real" relationships, or how it is, you know, leading to world peace or something.
This particular article, about how teens and youth really don't suffer from digital overload like us old fogeys of the pre-internet generation do, caught my attention.
As parents, Maria and I try to limit our kids' screen time to something that seems reasonable to us. We have a tremendous amount of screen resource in our house--TV, Wii, desktop computer, laptop computer, cell phones, iTouch--and some of that gets used for homework, or creative activity that is really beyond just play. Our kids fight us at every turn. Ethan whines and has tantrums when we tell him to turn off the iTouch or the Wii. Sam sneaks into our home office to tune into "The Office" on Netflix watch-it-now, even if we've told him he's not allowed to.
The article linked above highlights something that's been scratching the back of my mind for some time, though: what is reasonable for adults might not be reasonable for kids.
When I was little, I was very active--rode my bike miles almost every day, ran around the yard a lot, shot the neighbor's chickens in the butt with my BB gun, blew up plastic models with fire crackers, that kind of thing. Normal boy stuff. But I also watched three to four hours of television, on average, every single day. Did my brain rot? Maybe. Who knows how smart or successful I'd have been if I wasn't watching Kung Fu Theater or Spaghetti Western Week or Godzilla destroying Tokyo (again) on the 4 O'Clock Movie?
Certainly my generation has a digital affinity lacking in our parents. We all know stories of "grandma on facebook," but for the most part those stories are extremely rare when you compare to the total population of grandmas. But facebook is heavily used by the 40-something generation, as is email. But 40-somethings don't text that much on average, while kids text all the time.
Part of me wonders if I might actually be doing my son a disservice by limiting his screen time. When the rest of the children around him are learning how to live in the new world of digital and information overload, should we really be slowing him down just because we adults don't get it, can't handle it? If he gets enough physical activity and does well in school (straight A's on his last report card), should we just let him calibrate himself and develop the skills he'll need as an adult when technology and information continue their irresistible march to ubiquity?
A good example is Call of Duty: Black Ops, a game just released and which we picked up for the Wii last Friday. At any given moment during game play, there are at least four things happening on the screen at once. There's a running ticker of events, a map and radar in the corner, a scoreboard and timer, enemies moving around on and off screen, helicopters arriving, etc. You can even chat with other players by voice in online play. While I can only keep two or three of these things in my attention at any given time, the boys seem to have no problem seeing and responding to everything. This seems like an ability that should be developed rather than retarded.
How do you regulate or encourage your children's participation in the world of digital overload? If you have no children and therefore have all the answers, how would you approach this?