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A troubadour’s caution

Author voices concern about smartphones and social media

By Carolyn Pogue

En route to visit grandsons, I read Raffi Cavoukian’s new book in defense of children. I recommend it. The internationally known children’s troubadour has done the research for us, and offers some sanity in a world racing ever faster down a digital speedway to an unknown destination.

In Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Change Social Media Before It Changes Us, Raffi voices his concern about the impact of shiny digital technologies, such smartphones and ipads, on the hearts, learning habits and brain functioning of kids. He also admits his enjoyment of social media, and knows how easy it is to be lured by it.

The bottom line for me is that children are being used as experiments. No one can say how these technologies affect children’s development. No one knows what will happen to a 30-year-old after a lifetime of smartphone use. No one understands what changes take place in a new brain given hours of electronic visual and auditory stimulation each day.

Reading this book is like having a conversation with a friend. Raffi quotes authorities, such as parents, psychiatrists and  medical doctors but presents his findings in the manner of a heart-to-heart talk with the reader. He’s on our side — “our” meaning all of us who care deeply about kids. Although he is not an alarmist, he is alarmed. I am, too.

One thing Lightweb Darkweb does is help us to understand, in simple terms, how our brains develop. Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician and researcher at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says that “by the time a child is two, the brain has tripled in size ... [But] it’s the connections between brains cells (synapses) that account for that brain growth. And those synapses form based on early experiences ...” That gave me pause. Raffi explains the good doctor’s overstimulation hypothesis that could help to explain why so many children today are suffering from “inattention later in life.” Does this sound familiar to you?

Raffi doesn’t focus only on the very young. His book is dedicated to Amanda Todd, the Vancouver teen who took her own life after being publicly shamed by “friends” on Facebook.

Facebook comes under scrutiny, too, especially regarding privacy. Readers will learn that Facebook hasn’t actually invaded our privacy; users, through ignorance and consumer titillation, have voluntarily given away their privacy. Those taking full advantage of this are sexual predators, thieves, voyeurs and corporate advertisers.

The digital revolution has another dark side that affects both children and Earth. The mining, manufacture and disposal of electronic gadgets are mostly hidden away from us, and for good reason. Earth and young people again pay the price for many of these fun toys.

I sometimes feel exhausted just watching our children's parents — working professionals keeping up a house, garden and vehicles; participating in community activities; taking kids to hockey, dance and gymnastics; and just keeping their kids and their own parents happy. Plus, they must deal with growing concerns about food safety. That’s a lot of balls to juggle. The digital age was meant to make life easier, less complicated, I thought. But maybe not. Maybe it’s more about making money for corporations. One thing is for sure, it is making one more big concern for parents.

It’s one thing to say that it’s up to parents to be vigilant, but many adults feel overwhelmed by the technology themselves. Many don’t see the downside of these technological marvels.

I hope that anyone concerned for the future will read and discuss Lightweb Darkweb with their friends, politicians, medical professionals and teachers. I hope that parent advisory councils, school boards and book clubs will take it on, too. How can we best “be the village” that supports parents and takes action for children otherwise?

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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