I’m sitting here typing frantically in a café because I’ve finally got WiFi access. Finally. You see we’ve recently moved house (sigh) and I’ve been without Internet access for almost a week now. And I feel like I’ve lost my right arm. I know that sounds melodramatic, but being without the Internet has really caused me some angst this week.
At first it was a novelty to have no Internet connection. I loved that I didn’t need to constantly check email. I loved that I had a forced break from social media (I switched off social media just as soon as I exceeded my data plan on my phone and discovered that checking Facebook and email had cost me $42.17 for just one day. One.day.).
I suddenly found a whole lot more time to do other important things (besides unpacking boxes). Really important things (like below).
My head also felt clearer. I wasn’t consuming loads and loads of information as I’d typically do in a day when I’m ‘plugged in’. I was left alone with my thoughts (such as finding creative ways to store the contents of a five-bedroom house into a three-bedroom unit. Aghh!).
When I finally sat down at my laptop to work, I ploughed through my work. I was so focused. There were no email pings to distract me. I didn’t have the option to jump on the Internet and search for information. There were no social media pages begging for my attention. I just worked. Simple. Fast. Efficiently.
And it got me thinking… Just how reliant am I on the Internet? How is the Internet changing me? How is the Internet changing the way I think?
I rely on the Internet everyday. Besides my work, I use it to find recipes, download music, read blogs, watch video tutorials, find restaurants, go shopping. The list continues. It’s become a seamless part of my life.
I expect to be able to search/download/read/watch/find/shop instantaneously. I want it here. I want it now. I want instant gratification.
But my enforced digital sabbatical has made me realise that my dependence on the Internet is a double-edged sword.
On one-hand, I rely on it. It helps me to work and to be a mum and to manage a household. But on the other hand, being without it, I’ve realised just how distracting it can be at times.
And I’ve started to think…if the Internet is impacting on my life in a profound way, what impact is it having on children?
And it appears that I’m not the only one contemplating how the Internet is impacting our children and us. Similar concerns about the influence of technology have recently been explored in a report published by Intel Security.
The Safeguarding the Future of Digital Australia in 2025 report considered how new technology trends will shape our lives. The report provided a snapshot of Australian attitudes regarding the role technology may play in our futures, from technology, security, privacy and parenting experts and a Newspoll survey.
My Internet-free week has illuminated two trends that were also identified in the Intel Security report:
1. Next Generation Brains-
The Intel report suggested that our technological saturation is likely to result in different neural wiring (brain development) to the previous generations. Personally (and professionally) I think this is given.
The research has not been able to keep pace with the technological advancements, so we don’t yet have a complete picture of how technology is shaping our neural pathways. I often say that we are conducting a ‘living experiment’. However, neuroscience tells us that the brain changes in response to what it experiences. That’s a given. So it is highly likely (I would say probable) that technology is changing our brain architecture. We’re just not certain as to how it’s changing us (yet).
We do have some early research that is suggesting that technology is altering the way that the brain is wired.
For example, we know that we are offloading some our memory skills on the Internet. Referred as the ‘Google effect’ we are no longer committing information we’ve acquired to our long-term memory. Instead, we are remembering ‘how’ or ‘where’ we acquired the information. Not the ‘what’ (the actual information). I know that I do this. I no longer commit statistics or facts to memory. Instead, I use Evernote to capture a page and then I tag it so that I can later retrieve the information when I need it.
There are also some concerns that technology is impacting on our attention spans. Instead of attending to one task at hand, we now have a tendency to task switch. And this often results in ‘continual partial attention’. We never fully commit to a single task. Instead, we flit between tasks. Our attention is scattered. We might have multiple windows open on our computer and flit between the various windows, or jump from email to the Internet and check our phones in between.
2. Constant Connectivity as a Right-
There’s an increasing expectation that we will be able to be connected wherever and whenever. We’ve become so accustomed to having Internet access that it’s now considered ‘essential’.
How many cafes now provide WiFi? (And yes, I’m rejoicing because without this I would not be able to share this blog post). How many hotels now offer WiFi? There’s no more searching for the blue Ethernet cable that needs to be delivered to your room.
We’ve come to expect it.
There’s no denying that the Internet is changing us and the way that young children learn and develop.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The Internet can allow young children to learn in totally new ways. It can allow young children to communicate in totally different ways.
And this is why I’m so committed to sharing with you all the latest information about how children learn and develop in a digital age.
The Internet will not disappear. It’s here to stay. We can’t fear it. We can’t ban it.
instead, we need to look for healthy and appropriate ways to leverage technology. And that’s my mission. I want to help you navigate young children’s digital world, without the confusion, concern and guilt.
I’d love to hear in the comments below, have you found the Internet is changing the way you conduct your life? Are you concerned or excited about what the future holds for you and young children?