Top 6 TED Talks On The Alarming Effects of Screen Time

  • Parents Only

Technology has evolved rapidly over the last ten to fifteen years. We all now have access to incredible amounts of information right in our pockets, we can video chat with friends and family on the other side of the world, and organise our entire lives with the click of a few buttons. But what are the effects of spending so much time using these new technologies? How are mobile phones, computers and tablets changing our lives? Is it all positive? Does your screen time and use of technology affect your parenting? And what effect does screen time have on your kids?

The following videos certainly give us a lot of food for thought on screen time and technology. The overarching theme is that, yes, technology and devices have a time and place in the modern world, but we mustn’t let them take over our lives. As many of the videos discuss, these huge online companies make money from the time we spend looking at our screens, so each website or app that we use is designed to be addictive and draw us into spending more and more time online. It is imperative to remember the original point of your phone, email and even Facebook — to keep in touch with loved ones and increase productivity. If your phone or social media addiction is starting to rule you, rather than you ruling it, these videos are well worth the watch.

Screen time can increase unhappiness

In a TED Talk called “Why our screens make us less happy”, Adam Alter poses that the need to incessantly check our phones and the psychology behind the addiction makes us unhappy. Websites and social media news feeds don’t have stopping cues and this is what makes us less happy. Facebook, Twitter, news apps, etc are never ending, you can just keep scrolling — you are never “finished”. Unlike a physical newspaper which has a final page or a book which has chapters which finish. To continue to use these programs but not experience the unhappiness, you need to introduce stopping cues into your screen time. This could be anything from making a rule that you don’t use your phone at the dinner table or that you put it on aeroplane mode at the weekend.

Screens allow strangers into your kid’s bedroom

This TED Talk is in Spanish and has subtitles, but it is well worth the watch. Sebastián Bortnik highlights the conversations we are not having about digital child abuse. Using examples of how social media can effectively turn your child’s bedroom into a bar or a nightclub allowing strangers access to them — he talks about the dangers of grooming via social media. Online safety is important, but it is not discussed enough. He gives the analogy of how you wouldn’t allow your child to walk home from school alone without first telling them to look both ways before they cross the road and not talk to strangers, but we happily let them go online without explaining the consequences of sending photos of themselves, talking to people they don’t know who might not be who they say they are, and the dangers of webcams.

An unhealthy digital lifestyle can cause low self-esteem

This is the sneakiest danger of screen time — it can actually leech into your non-screen time and take over you and your children’s whole lives. In a TED Talk titled, “The dangers of social media”, Leslie Coutterand says we must remember that social media is not real life. Influencers, celebrities and even your friends post images of themselves doing amazing things, eating amazing food, and hanging out in all the coolest new places. It causes the conditioning of young people (and grownups alike) to convince them that their whole life needs to be “Instaworthy”. We are all tempted into the routine of staging the perfect shot for our social media account instead of actually experiencing each moment. Attaching your self-esteem to the number of likes on your latest post can lead to addiction, unhappiness and depression. Don’t let your digital habits and the habits of your kids shape an unhealthy digital lifestyle.

Screens zap imagination and ideas

In her TED Talk, “How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas”, Manoush Zomorodi explains how screen time is filling up all the cracks of time in your day — that would once have allowed your mind to wonder and come up with creative ideas. In 2019 boredom is not experienced, it is replaced with phone games, social media, and completing admin tasks on the go. If no one is ever bored, if we never let our mind go on autopilot while we take a walk or wait for the bus, what will happen to great ideas? There is research that shows that daydreaming while bored is when your brain works hardest, it dips into the subconscious and does its best problem solving and planning when we are “doing nothing”. This is particularly alarming for teens who have grown up with technology and screens — this age group may have never experienced boredom — and therefore haven’t had the experience of thinking deeply and coming up with creative ideas. What makes it more even more dangerous is that these teens are the future of our industries, the people we are relying on to solve huge world issues in the next generation. Reclaiming the cracks in your day (i.e. keeping your phone in your pocket when you are bored) could really help you change your relationship with your phone — changing it from a taskmaster to the tool it was designed to be.

You are being sold online to create extremists and alter political outcomes

This TED Talk touches on how the people in power use AI to control and manipulate us. Companies such as Facebook and Google capture your data and attention, package it up, and sell it to make a profit. These websites may be free to use, but that is because you are the product that’s being sold. Online targeting has got so big and complicated that the algorithms in your news feed aren’t even completely understood by the people that created them. If this is the case, can this targeted and personalised news feed be ethical? No one knows, because they aren’t actually sure how it works. The speaker gives an example of holidays to Las Vegas being marketed to bipolar customers who are just about to have a manic episode and are vulnerable to excessive gambling and overspending, in which the person who created the algorithm isn't exactly sure how the manic episode is being detected. Another issue raised is: could these algorithms make people more extreme? YouTube, for example, shows you videos in order of extremity from least to most. So the more videos you watch about a certain subject, it shows your more and more extreme content. Not offering up any videos with opposing views, which could result in growing viewers extreme views. There is also evidence that Facebook is running experiments on people, messing with their emotions by changing the order of their news feed and manipulating their actions — even with serious life-changing events such as national elections. Essentially we are all being manipulated one by one via our screens using the information we provided — technology that was developed in a harmless way to sell advertising and make us click on adverts could be used in very harmful ways to affect our politics and other real-world issues. We should be concerned about the power of influence screen time has on us and our children.


Screen time is permanently damaging your attention span

Social media reduces your ability to sustain concentration because you fragment your attention. It actually harms your attention span long term. As discussed in the previous TED Talk, it has also been proved that social media makes people feel inadequate and depressed. Social media is like a slot machine that you take with you in your pocket and causes background anxiety. This TED Talk titled, “Why you should quit social media”, also touches on the fact that people think that social media and an active account with lots of followers is essential to their job prospects. However, the speaker points out that any activity that can be successfully completed by the average six-year-old is unlikely to get you very far in the professional world.

Thanks to Hasbro: This article is brought to you in partnership with Hasbro Gaming, our Supporting Brand Partner for the Unplug & Play Initiative.

More Digital Food For Thought Here:

We're Spending More Time 'Alone Together' With Our Kids Because Of Device Addictions
Toddlers Engage More With Books Than eBooks
What Playing Board Games Does To Your Brain

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