A 21st Century Modest Proposal for Preventing Children From the Burden Of Thought

Please note the heavy irony and satire.  This essay is modeled after Johnathan Swift’s 1729 essay “A Modest Proposal for Preventing Children of Poor People.”

It is a melancholy object to those, who walk through this town, or travel in this country, or this globe, when they see the streets, the schools, the malls, the restaurants, crowded with children and adults alike, without even a single electronic device in hand.  These children and adults, instead of being able to consult Google for every answer, instead of being able to hide behind the façade of social media, rather than tap away at a screen for points of merit, are forced to employ all their time in the real world, facing those individuals around them, absorbing their environment, taking in their surroundings. 

 

I think it is agreed by all parties, that the shear lack of technology in the hands of these individuals, is a deplorable state of society, a very great additional grievance for its citizens, and therefore whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of providing these children with tablets, cell-phones, and gaming systems would deserve so well of the public, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of society. 

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for these children, it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants as early as birth, who are certainly in dire need of technological devices with which to wither away their days, develop drug-like addictions, and stunt their cognitive development.

As to my own part, having turned by thoughts for many years, upon this important subject, I have always found these devices to be the life line of our children, as important as the air we breathe. It is true a screen may provide seemingly inexpensive and care-free babysitting, that it might keep the child apparently entertained for hours on end, that the games and programs may prompt social connections with their peers, and can provide a stronger education than any educator or school.    

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme that it will prevent those voluntary attentive parents, and that horrid practice of reading, studying, and playing outside, and the outrageous concept of conversing face-to-face with those around us. 

The number of devices per individual in this nation being usually reckoned at two or more, of these I calculate these children ages 5 to 16 spend an average of six or more hours per day on screens, most concentrated to boys who average eight hours per day.   Subtract six hours for the school day, six and a half hours for screen time, an hour or more for travel to and from school, eight hours to sleep, and time to go about daily rituals such as bathing and eating.  There only remain an hour or less for homework, outdoor activities, creative endeavors, or social interactions.  The question therefore is, how can this habit, this addiction, be reared?  Under this present situation, it appears utterly impossibly by all methods hitherto proposed, for we can neither refuse to purchase these devices for our children nor restrict their screen time nor spend time with our children device-free. 

I am assured by the technology companies, by the gaming producers, and the internet providers, that no child nor adult ages 2 or up should be without at least a device or two and that, even before this age, failure to provide children with screen time may potentially stunt their neural development, contribute to social developmental delays, and stunt their educational gains.  We cannot turn to either the parents, the government, or the schools.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least of objection. 

Smartphones shall be available for some eight to ten hours per day, but more plentiful during the academic year, and a little more during the school day, for we are told by great technology companies that these games and applications are educational in value and provide our children with the highest degree of education possible. 

Video game consoles shall be available in libraries, schools, and homes across the nation.  Books shall be burned by the masses during the night.  451 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure proper disposal for literacy and learning are simply lessening the prospects of our nation’s future leaders.  No need to read, to develop literacy skills, to recall our nation’s history, or to develop independent thought. 

I have already computed the savings of reducing the number of teachers, textbooks, library books, and curriculum in our schools to be replaced by computerized programs requiring no more than a simple click and guess-and-check skills.  Devices, chargers, and electricity included, it would make quite a significant difference. 

As to our schools, devices may be appointed for this purpose.  We may do away with the teachers and replace them with artificial intelligence robots.  We may be assured that our children will be wanting nothing more, that they will be perfectly content as their games provide them with temporary dopamine highs. 

As to our parents, there will no longer be a need to care for, communicate with, play with, or even watch out for our children for the Thought Police are here – watching, waiting, always.  With our always-on always-listening devices, the bright glow of our screens, and the unknown voices of virtual friends, there shall be no need to wither away energy on the raising of our youth.

As to our children whom will almost certainly develop attention deficits, develop unnatural attachments to their devices, become irritable at even the slightest inconvenience, and struggle to differentiate between the virtual world and the real one, they shall thrive in the re-education camp of Room 101 and report their parents for even the smallest crime of reading bed-time stories or teaching basic daily skills. 

Many other advantages might be enumerated: for instance, the addition of some tens of billions of dollars into the gaming market, the dissolution of our book publishing industries, blind followers to our nation’s leaders, a cognitive apocalypse at its best. 
 

 
The video game market is an 18.4 billion dollar per year industry in the United States with over 150 million American gamers.  Studies suggest that some 97% of children own a mobile device.  The 2015 Essential Facts from the Video Game Industry Report (2015) shows that over 42% of Americans play video games for at least three hours per day.  Children, on average, spend 6.5 hours or more on devices – smart phones, tablets, televisions, or gaming consoles, per day with boys averaging slightly more time per day than girls.  Suncorp Bank’s Cost of Being Digitally Savvy report shows that individual consumers average about $2,300 on technology and communications per year with individuals having at least one child averaging nearly $3,000 per year.  

Surveys show that 68% of parents feel that video games are a positive part of their child’s life; this sentiment is further evident based on consumer reports.  57% of K-5 teachers and 38% of middle school teachers report using video games in the classroom with an even more significant portion using some form of technology in the classroom.  More than 2.7 million K – 12 students partake in digital learning, completing their education without a formal teacher or organic discussion, and little research on the effectiveness of such programs.  

While society adamantly advocates for increased screen time and one-to-one devices in schools, research continues to demonstrate that screen time and, specifically, gaming are addictive and that their cognitive effects are not so different than drugs.  Even in youth who aren’t “addicted,” regular exposure (an average of 6.5 hours per day) can contribute to sensory overload, insomnia, and hyper-aroused nervous systems.  Children may become impulsive, moody, irritable, anxious, and inattentive.  

Multiple studies suggest that screen addictions contribute to atrophy of grey matter areas in the brain, the same areas responsible for the processing of information, and especially the frontal lobe, responsible for executive functions.  Additionally, prolonged screen exposure may damage the insula, a region of the brain responsible for empathy and compassion.  (Zhou 2011Yuan 2011Weng 2013,and Weng 2012)  

Additional studies show a correlation between screen time and the deterioration of the brain’s white matter areas, resulting in a poor connection between body and brain (Lin 2012Yuan 2011Hong 2013 and Weng 2013).  Symptoms often include sensory overload and autism-like symptoms. 

 

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