Screen time and new-parent future-shock

October 26th, 2018

Read this New York Times piece before continuing.

The anecdotes in the article above condone an "abstinence only" approach to screen time. After all, it worked out super-well for teen pregnancies, so why not apply the same methodology to technology?

I have some anecdotes of my own.

I started coding on my dad's Atari 800XL at age 4. If I had to wait until I turned 13 simply because my parents were Amish about it, I probably wouldn’t have formed a passion for computers, and my development would have been stunted.

When I was growing up, I was locked to my Nintendo Game Boy. Today, instead of Super Mario Land, it's Fortnite. Our need for entertainment has evolved, but it's not a new paradigm. Entertainment is part of being a self-actualized society when we're not toiling away in potato fields trying to stock up for winter.

I admit that phones are different in that they are more like a physical appendage than a screen we reference, but they still feel like a variation on a theme. When your only "screen" is a stationary computer, you’re forced to take a break, and it's there when you come home from school. A phone can be in front of you at all moments. But to me there's a difference between no phone time vs. no screen time.

I don't understand the fixation on "screens" and not the context that the screen is in. TV screens have been around since the 50s. Are we worse off as a country since they were invented?

My daughter looks like a zombie when we put Sesame Street on, as I'm sure I did when I was growing up. So why weren’t alarm bells going off in the 70s when every kid was parked three feet from their television sets?

All of this just smells like new-parent future-shock to me. “I didn’t have a phone when I was younger, therefore this is bad.” Nostalgic feelings, like most feelings in Silicon Valley, aren't scientific.