Helping Children

Some Topics

  • Virtual Reality, Smart Phones, Internet Addiction

    Electronic machines have a strong appeal and create new possibilities for users. Children adapt quickly to video games and hand held devices that beep, display characters and images. Hand-eye coordination skills develop quickly. Some children display astonishing speed interacting with video games but become frantic and robotic in this connection with electronic virtual reality. You can argue that electronic games are perverse machines since they occupy time and attention in a virtual reality that might be better spent enjoying and cultivating the real world. Television has been declared a perverse machine for the same reason – a virtual reality replaces the real world and sedentary viewers may become fat, sick and confused.

    Lewin observed that:’ New media products for babies, toddlers and preschoolers began flooding the market in the late 1990's, starting with video series like "Baby Einstein" and "Brainy Baby." But now, the young children's market has exploded into a host of new and more elaborate electronics for pre-schoolers, including video game consoles like the V. Smile and handheld game systems like the Leapster, all marketed as educational. Despite the commercial success, though, a report released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, "A Teacher in the Living Room? Educational Media for Babies, Toddlers and Pre-schoolers," indicates there is little understanding of how the new media affect young children - and almost no research to support the idea that they are educational… In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended no screen time at all for babies under 2, out of concern that the increasing use of media might displace human interaction and impede the crucially important brain growth and development of a baby's first two years. “

    The growing dependence on smart phones and video games among teenagers and young adults is a very destructive trend in human development supported by a rapidly expanding multibillion dollar commerce. Dougherty reviewed some of the current trends (2016): “In a recent survey by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit research group, half of teenagers said they watched TV while doing their homework, while 60 percent said they texted and three-quarters said they listened to music. About three-quarters of United States teenagers have access to a mobile phone, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. Most go online daily and about a quarter of them use the Internet “almost constantly. Those numbers have created a growing advertising market and fortunes for apps like Snapchat and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. This year companies are projected to spend $30 billion on in-app advertising in the United States, roughly double what they spent in 2014, according to eMarketer, a research company. But even though these services all have the same core functions — find friends, post pictures, send messages — teenagers juggle them constantly, developing arcane customs for what to post where and ditching one app for another the moment it becomes uncool. To manage their identities in and obligations to this world in their pockets, they adhere to rules that have somehow been absorbed and adopted by their peers. App makers fear this kind of juggling the way TV networks fear DVRs. Each time someone leaves one app for another, there is a chance that user will never come back. And since apps make money only when users are plugged in and absorbing ads, the number of monthly users is less important than how many users they get each day — and how long they stay.” (Conor Dougherty. App Makers Reach Out to the Teenager on Mobile NYT Jan. 1, 2016)

    The real question is what humans really want? A better real world is a good answer. A better real world would be more natural, cleaner, safer, and more stable. A better world might be achieved, but not by the people who are preoccupied watching TV and playing videogames. Children are not well-served by television, movies, video games and games played with computers. Good parents face an increasing task of limiting virtual reality experiences and keeping children in the real world. While considerable effort has been made to rate television shows and movies and a few parents restrict access to violence and sex shows, the average child is hooked on virtual reality, is physically inactive, gaining weight, and not gaining a useful perspective on what is really going on out there in the real world.

    The term virtual refers to the replacement of a real person or event with a substitute. "Virtual reality" has come to mean a computer-generated environment that is a facsimile of a real environment. You can create the illusion that you are walking around in a room by displaying pictures on a computer monitor and computer games routinely simulate three dimensions in two. If you wear the visual display as wrap around goggles, you can improve on the visual experience of a three-dimensional space, but the display is far from convincing. Movies often create virtual realities and virtual characters are proliferating.

    Loose talk, fantasy, paranoia, violence and terror have become commonplace in movie and television plots that place computers and robots at the center of some fantasized machine takeover of the world. The people who write these scripts apparently do not understand computers very well and understand the intelligence of living creatures even less. A realist will note that there are no independently intelligent machines and there are no prospects for "intelligent machines" except in some vague fantasy. The only intelligence found in machines is human intelligence put there by people who design and program the machines.

    Computer generated "virtual realities" are limited and limiting but there is increasing evidence that at least some children prefer these virtual realities (VR) and withdraw increasingly from the real world (RW) if they have a choice. In VR you try to create a hermetic world that is more predictable and mostly under your control.

    Every environment that humans build is a step in the direction of creating an ultimate virtual reality. The living room equipped with drapes and a television set with remote controller is the most common virtual reality machine. You close the drapes to tune out the real world; with remote controller in hand, in the tradition of the most powerful person in the universe, tune into the virtual reality of videospace. With the push of a few buttons, you can skim the video envelope surrounding planet earth and adjust the picture and volume to your liking. What you experience is another matter.

    Videospace is full of gossip, fantasy, noise, confusion and violence. The worst of human behavior seems to receive the most attention. While it is challenging to exaggerate human perversity that actually exists in the RW, television VR programs often succeed. Perversity is amplified, exaggerated and sustained beyond any reasonable notion of entertainment or artistic license. You can argue that humans are unrealistic about all the virtual realties they create. Illusions of security and comfort are routinely accepted even when a VR is manifestly dangerous. The car is a virtual reality machine. Inside a new luxury automobile you are in a dream space; you feel comfortable, secure and in control. A new car is hermetic and the designers have thought of many comforts and conveniences.

    You carry this sense of hermetic perfection with you as your drive and may not comprehend that in 60 seconds your luxury vehicle could be transformed into a pile of rubble and you could be seriously injured or dead. Children are notably unrealistic about the dangers of driving cars. If they are trained on virtual cars in video space, they will become dangerous drivers. You could argue that they will develop superior hand-eye coordination and should be technically better drivers, but the flaw is that they have no sense of how the real world operates, have practiced aggressive and dangerous driving and have poor judgment about the hazards they face and the hazards they impose on others.

    Bob Hebert, wrote in a New York Times review :” I do think that millions of American adults have lost all sense of what are appropriate forms of play for children and teenagers. And the country as a whole behaves as though there is no real-world price to pay for a culture that has so thoroughly desensitized us to violence that it takes a terror attack or a series of suburban sniper killings to really get our attention… The biggest-selling video game over the last couple of years has been a PlayStation 2 game called Grand Theft Auto III. It actually carries a voluntary "M" rating, which means it's not recommended for kids under 17. But teens have no problem buying "M"-rated games, and they love the various incarnations of Grand Theft Auto. This is a game in which all boundaries of civilized behavior have vanished. You get to shoot whomever you want, including cops. You get to beat women to death with baseball bats. You get to have sex with prostitutes and then kill them. (And get your money back.) The game is a phenomenal seller. At close to $50 each, millions of copies are sold annually. The latest version, Grand Theft Auto, Vice City, is expected to be one of the biggest sellers this Christmas…”

    The curious aspect of future technology fears and fantasies is that all the problems in the real world are sometimes discussed and then ignored. Even the most advanced countries today have aging infrastructures, ready to collapse at any moment. We are dependent on machines that depend on aging infrastructures that are inadequate in the best case. Electricity, telephone, cable communications and the internet are carried by wires on poles that fall down easily, pushed by a little wind or shaken by earth tremors. Even if TV networks keep broadcasting, viewers may not have enough clean water to drink or food to eat.

    While we do not need space exploration, we need better technology to build a more stable and friendly infrastructure close to home. Parents must ask: What do children really want? Do they want more distraction and entertainment in virtual reality or do they want a real life in the real and healthy world?

    The problems of bad food and eating excesses are embedded in the virtual reality of television and all other marketing media. The supermarket is a virtual reality that presents real food along with packaged, processed and junk foods. Again parents are confused and easily lose perspective on what is the correct food to feed children. Children, of course, responding to television advertising and store displays, demand and usually receive the wrong foods. I think it is necessary for parents to fully comprehend the two pronged assault on their children’s well-being; bad information and bad chemicals combine to produce disturbed or sick children. Normal is not normal.

    Lewin, T. See Baby Touch a Screen but Does Baby Get It? New York Times. December 15, 2005. Hebert,B. The Gift of Mayhem. New York Times. Nov 28 2002.