Venkata: Technological affects on human development should be a huge concern

Heeding warnings from Silicon Valley, the use of screens and smart devices affect how all ages interact and learn.

Uma Venkata

Since Apple rolled out the first one-button cellphone, screens have been an especially touchy subject. And the more commonplace they’ve become, the more influential they are, because we’re head-over-heels for highly invasive tracking devices that log our every step. No hyperbole.

Cell phone usage is present in every American demographic, and has disrupted the social flow in all of them. On the other hand, cell phones are overwhelmingly convenient. They’re glittery, they’re fun and they light up fireworks of dopamine. Most of us undergraduates don’t have fully developed brains, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. That happens around age 25, and by that time, cell phones have already interfered in the way we interact with each other. You can imagine how much greater of a difference the constant exposure to cell phones will have on children today.

A good litmus test for the truth about the risks of any product is looking at how the creators use it for themselves. Drug dealers never touch their own stash; designers of haute couture never wear their particularly wacky material. If something is marketable and profitable for you, but you know its true cost, you very well may put it to market and profit — but you’ll protect yourself and your own from it. 

In Silicon Valley, the epicenter of tech development, there have been soaring profits from handheld hardware and software devices. The last thing Facebook wants is for us to delete our accounts, or even take a few weeks off, which explains why the platform “welcomes you back.” The engineers behind this innovation are tirelessly pushing those boundaries. This is well and good for human progress, but it should be a bit of a red flag that it’s becoming a widely held practice for these Silicon Valley residents to shield their children from screens entirely. 

Silicon Valley parents are asking their nannies to sign no-phone contracts, where nannies agree not to look at any screens around the children. It’s understandable that once children get a taste of technology, it’s a fight to the teeth to wrench it back again. Once it becomes an ingrained part of life, it changes a lot about how children grow, develop and learn, especially with each other.

It’s hard for kids to understand that someone wrote the code that they enjoy so much in order to manipulate the user into devotion. It’s a fairly cut-and-dried game, but a tough pill for even us to swallow at 20 years old. Nannies notice the truly sad part; there are plenty of parents, the same ones with the contracts, who come home and pay attention to their phones instead of their children. 

We can explore the ways smartphones upset the social rhythm in every age group. I’m particularly interested — or worried — about how it can affect and hurt school children, and next up, high schoolers. Ultimately, what matters is what we do about it. A dependence on devices alters social behavior and learning in all humans. We have a responsibility not to let our children, or ourselves, suffer for it. We’re the ones who make that decision, and we can make it right.