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Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out…

Dear Friends,

Of course you all know that I’m a huge tech fan. I love technology for its ability to make our lives easier in almost every aspect and at almost every turn.  In fact, in my travels around the world, I am always looking for new technologies in order to bring them to people who can truly benefit from them. Whether the technology is designed to help us live the rich mobile digital lifestyles to which we aspire by keeping our phones charged at all times, or technology designed to purify water and help stave off water-borne disease or body mapping technology that aids in the prevention of decubitus ulcers, it is my life’s mission to improve people’s lives through the implementation of technology.

Now, you might think that a tech geek like me is ALWAYS ON…and CONSTANTLY PLUGGED IN.  And I admit that I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have at least a few hundred unread emails in my inbox screaming for my attention.  You’d probably also be surprised to know that I don’t advocate the “always on” lifestyle.  In fact, I recognize that technology overload is a very real phenomenon and that the negative effects that arise from it, particularly to our children, are deeply concerning.

Recently I came across a great article about the need (and difficulty) to disconnect from technology, even for a few minutes.  Consider the following statistics:  81% percent of Americans are connected to the Internet, 75% use it every day and 89% of children 12-14 use social networks on a daily basis. In and of itself, that doesn’t sound so bad, right? After all, it is the 21st century, so it should come as no great shock that people are connected to the Internet! But there’s more. According to  TIME magazine, 84% of mobile users admit that they “couldn’t survive an entire  day without their phone” and 40% of respondents even admit using their mobile devices while in the bathroom.  (This is a moderate estimate since another study I read calculated that figure as potentially as high 75%.

What exactly is going on that we, as a society, can’t bear to be away from our phones even long enough to use the bathroom?!

As for me, the whole issue has me thinking about the impact that this constant state of connectivity will ultimately have on our children. Is it possible that as Internet usage continues to grow and supply more and more services, stimuli and connectivity, that we are cultivating a distracted, schizophrenic, and potentially even sociopathic generation?  Consider this: one of the first actions of the Boston Marathon bomber (age 19) last week was to Tweet about the bombings and update his Facebook page with anti-social messaging championing the teaching of Jihadist ideology to children.  I can’t really say with any certainty whether the chicken or egg came first…whether he chose to go down the yellow brick socio-path and then use social media to amplify his action or whether there was a more direct linkage between his usage of social media and his ultimate decision to plant two bombs in the middle of one of the world’s best-known road racing events. But I can tell you this:  a recent study found that a whopping 89% of our children are, in some way, substituting real human connectivity for online social media interaction.   The long term consequences have yet to fully manifest but I’ll just bet it ‘aint good.

So what’s the solution? Of course I could write for hours about the innate responsibility that we all have, as parents, to monitor and shape our children’s behavior and education.  I could but I won’t.

Instead I will leave you with a very simple prescription.

Unplug every now and again. Reconnect with your children and force them to connect to others on a very real and tangible playing field. Not in the chat rooms of the blogosphere that allows for anonymity and detached voyeurism — but in the real world where real consequences exist for every action. Where they can see that people from every walk of life are so much more alike than unalike and that we all just fundamentally want to be heard and understood.

Warm Regards,

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