Earth Matters: Believe the creators in Silicon Valley

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Addicted — enthusiastically devoted to a particular thing or activity.

Connected — bring together or into contact so that a real or notional link is established.

Every night, we turn our Wi-Fi and our cell phones off. And we have been doing so for years. (Yes, we miss Amber Alerts that come during the night.)

The Wi-Fi stays off until there is a need to turn it back on, which often isn’t until the next evening. We never subscribed to a family data plan, while my three kids still lived at home.

We first started turning off the Wi-Fi and limiting our use of cell phones when I learned about the potential and insufficiently explored dangers of the radio frequency radiation emitted by both, which the World Health Organization has classified as possibly carcinogenic.

In addition, I had read on Grassroots Environmental Education’s website, that emerging science on wireless radiation recognizes “low-level exposures to this type of radiation as being capable of damaging DNA, interfering with normal brain development, and increasing the risk of certain cancers.” (Source: http://grassrootsinfo.org/cellphonesandwireless.php.)

I learned that distance is everything, and consequently moved our router from the first floor to the basement. Reducing my kids’ exposure during the night and moving the router further away from them was the least I could do to calm my worries.

I also didn’t like how my kids checked out when on their cell phones.

As a family, we could be together in a room without connecting. That’s simply not natural. Without a data plan and the Wi-Fi, they magically reemerged.

Yes, I had to deal with complaints about inconveniences and missing out and debates about when to turn the home Wi-Fi back on, and yes, it wasn’t easy. But at the end of the day, I am very glad we had those discussions.

One of my daughters told me that she and her friends purposely “forget” their phones in their dorm rooms and that they are considering uninstalling social media apps from their phones — at least during finals week.

Their reasoning? It’s so distracting and a huge time waster.

The New York Times published an article by Nellie Bowles about “our troubled relationship with the screens that dominate our lives.” (Source: Nellie Bowles, A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley, New York Times).

The article marvels about the number of people in Silicon Valley who do everything in their power to keep their children away from screens.

Shouldn’t that make us wonder if they know something that we don’t know yet? They know how technology works, and if they are choosing to keep their children away, then we all should definitely take a very close look.

“This idea that Silicon Valley parents are wary about tech is not new. The godfathers of tech expressed these concerns years ago, and concern has been loudest from the top.” (Source: Nellie Bowles, A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley, New York Times).

I recently heard Catherine Steiner-Adair speak at a fundraiser. Her speech was short and powerful, and it inspired me to buy her book; I am still working my way through it. The New York Times Book Review called it “.. unsettling but necessary ..” and I couldn’t agree more.

She is describing how our constant interaction through screens comes with the cost of losing meaningful interactions and connections with each other — even within the close family.

Parents and children are “struggling to maintain a meaningful personal connection with each other in their own homes.”

If the possible health concerns mentioned above are not enough to convince you to limit cell-phone and Wi-Fi use whenever possible, then maybe the message of the book will.

Both authors, Bowles and Steiner-Adair agree that the risk for addiction and for slowing children’s development seem high compared to the benefits that screens provide. When young children draw pictures of their families, they include electronic devices; that is understandable as we are never without them.

“A wariness that has been slowly brewing is turning into a region-wide consensus: The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high.” (Source: Nellie Bowles, A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley, New York Times.)

This holiday let’s all turn off our devices and talk, play, draw. Let’s be creative and have fun, and let’s see how that feels. Call it a gift to your family, your kids, and yourself. Be a role model. When you are available, your kids might not even miss their devices.

Sources: Nellie Bowles: A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley, NYTimes (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/26/style/phones-children-silicon-valley.html?emc=edit_tu_20181102&nl=bits&nlid=5713582820181102&te=1).

Juliane Saary-Littman
Port Washington

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