In the age of smart tech, how much is too much screen time?
Our smart watches are connected to our smarter phones, which can also send commands to our kitchen appliances and home thermostats while we check the weather or take selfies to feed Instagram.
We can even see and talk to the strangers ringing our doorbells as we lie on farmonitoring flung beaches. And, of course, the Russians are it all, including this column. (Boris and Natasha, I know you’re out there.)
Is it time to revisit the impact and appeal of living in or on the 24/7 web? Or, to put it another way, what have we done to our kids? They are wired at home, at
friend’s houses, and increasingly at school. And we adults are too busy Snapchatting to notice. Is this really healthy?
Perhaps the answer lies where the connected phenomenon started and is continually souped-up: Silicon Valley. National publications have reported recently that some of the best and brightest technologists and executives are severely limiting their children’s screen time. They are so serious about it that nanny contracts (who even knew there were such things?) have clauses with rules about screen use, both by the nanny and his/her charges. Of course, these parents are sending the ultimate mixed message by arriving home still tethered to their own devices.
According to articles in The Atlantic and The New York Times, some private schools favored by the Silicon Valley elite have completely eliminated educational and personal digital devices for grades K-6. Some people refer to this as the “wooden toy” movement.
“On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine,” said Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired magazine and now a CEO in Silicon Valley. Quoted in The New York Times on the impact of the connected world, Anderson said he now has 12 rules for his kids, including no phone until high school, no screens in bedrooms, content blocking, no social media until age 13 and screen time schedules enforced by an app. Breaking the rules is punished by denial of screen access for 24 hours, the ultimate parental disciplinary weapon.
“We thought we could control it,” Anderson told The Times. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”
To me, Anderson sounds a bit alarmist, but only a bit. I know what has happened to my attention span, and how many hours I fritter away playing Sudoku or lurking on Facebook. But the former Wired editor did get me thinking about Greenwich Public Schools and their reliance on technology-driven “personalized learning” to teach our kids.
Looking for reassurance that “personalized learning” was more than just giving every kid a tablet, I revisited the GPS strategic plan for 2015-2020.
(OK, I’ve been writing for about 30 minutes now and have far exceeded my attention span. Think among yourselves; I’ve got an expert-level Sudoku game waiting for me on my iPhone.)
I’m back. I cannot say that the GPS document was very illuminating. First, it is so loaded with edu-speak that reading it is torture, like being forced to watch school board meetings on Greenwich Community Television. Plus, every other word or phrase is “strategy” or “strategic initiative.” And, at the heart of this five-year plan one finds “educator evaluation indicators” and “social-emotional learning and engagement programs and standards,” all in support of a “Theory of Action.”
When I was in elementary school, my “theory of action” was to use mental telepathy to will the classroom clock ahead by several hours so I could go home.
We are now in the fourth year of this five-year plan, and I could not find the “strategic dashboard” that tracked progress against any of this gobbledy-gook. I turned to a friend who is an elementary school teacher and, therefore, on the front lines of the “personalized learning” initiative. Surely this teacher could explain what it is and how the “Theory of Action” is working.
This friend asked fellow elementary school teachers what “personalized learning” means to them.
“It’s the next best thing. Another district initiative,” said one.
“District has no measurable goals. I worry that test scores will decline,” offered another.
“More teacher prep time needed. Many K-5 students don’t have the ability to manage or produce meaningful work. (They) don’t have the maturity to direct their own learning,” said a third.
The teachers’ comments were interesting, but not helpful to one trying to understand how “personalized learning” has changed either the way Greenwich children are taught or how teaching has changed now that it is “personalized.” Perhaps that is inevitable when long-range plans are implemented by short-term superintendents and school board members. With only 18 months left in this strategic plan’s time frame, there seems to be little consensus about what is being done, let alone how well it is working.