Trading four-leaf clovers for iPhones

By Nick Bush


I can remember the moment I first felt old. It came this past holiday season, as I was home visiting my mother.

“You should call your cousin,” she said. “He gave me his cell number. It’s his birthday, and I’m sure he’d love it if you to sent him a text, or post on his Facebook wall.”

The last time I had seen my cousin ­– before his family moved to another part of the country seven years ago – he was 5-years-old. I would occasionally travel across town to babysit him, and we would play wiffle ball in his yard and watch SpongeBob SquarePants. The idea that this rambunctious little tyke now had a cell phone – let alone a Facebook page – blew my mind, and made me feel for the first time that I was no longer part of America’s youngest generation, whom are now being shaped by the ever-advancing technology of our interconnected world.

Kids are acquiring cell phones and other technology, and the pressures that follow, at an earlier age than ever before. While not necessarily healthy for children, this is certainly good news for phone companies, who surely dream of a day when every baby says their first words to Mommy and Daddy via an iPhone given to them at birth. Phone manufacturer Firefly Mobile has even introduced a line of phones specifically designed for young children, although the company offers still parents a number of controls not found on standard phones.

I didn’t have a cell phone until the age of 15. I can imagine that owning one a few years earlier would have had a big effect on my development, one way or another. I spent the majority of my summer as a 12-year-old at my grandparents’ house. I did a lot of reading, with a large chunk of time also devoted to cloud watching while my grandfather gardened in the backyard. I found a four-leaf clover or two, but not without hours of diligent searching. My grandparents’ house had a single, cobwebbed rotary phone, which was nestled in a china cabinet, next to a candy bowl. At the time, 56k dial-up Internet was still a growing trend, and Facebook was just a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye.

In my opinion, the freedom of this summer would have been destroyed by technology. An integral part of any childhood is stress-free time, which should logically include independence from the demanding needs of our modern era. Being connected to the entire world at all hours means sacrificing a great deal of your attention and energy. Thrusting a child into this mess is only going to add external anxiety during a very formative period.

I’ll admit that, as an only child, I may personally be prone to introversion. However, I feel strongly that all children need free time to truly develop their imaginations and personal identities.

Like every child of the 90s, I watched a good deal of television, which certainly offers its own range of negative effects. However, I think the constant distractions of Facebook and cell phones may be worse, in part because they require continuous attention. How can you be free to stare at the clouds when you are staring all day at your phone?

Anthropologist and digital philosopher Amber Case believes that humans have been drastically changed by the amount of time we spend looking at computer screens and using cell phones. She also seems to be troubled by the effect modern technology could have on today’s generation of kids.

“Now what we are looking at is an extension of the mental self,” said Case in a December speech at the TEDWomen conference in Washington, D.C. “You have a second [connected] self, and you suddenly have to maintain this second self. The same way that you wake up, shower and get dressed, you have to learn to do this for your digital self. The problem is that a lot of adolescents have to go through two adolescences – they have to go through their primary one that’s already awkward, and then they have to go through their second self’s adolescence, and that’s even more awkward because there is a history of everything they do online.”

Case agrees that growing up in our digitally interwoven world could destroy more than just kids’ attention spans – it could even destroy their senses of self.

“What I’m really worried about is that kids aren’t taking time for mental reflection anymore; they’re not just sitting there,” said Case. “When you have no external input is the time when there is a creation of self, when you can do your long-term planning, when you can figure out who you really are.”

While my cousin and his new generation of connected kids may struggle to know themselves or pay attention in class, they will certainly be well-versed in making friends quickly and impersonally. There will never be a shortage of people for him to talk to – even if they don’t know what they want to talk about. Old geezers like me will just have to get used to it.

I’m sure that my cousin will never find as many four-leaf clovers as I did that summer. With so many digital obligations, how could he find the time?

Nick Bush is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]