November 25, 2018

Understanding science

The art and science of screen time

This article is about a topic that keeps me up at night (if Twitter hasn’t already done a sufficient job)

Read Time 2 minutes

This article is about a topic that keeps me up at night (if Twitter hasn’t already done a sufficient job): A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley.

I really don’t know what to do about this one, and I doubt I’m alone. Whenever there’s a “consensus,” the contrarian in me always wonders if the issue is overblown, and screen time is no exception. What’s the right balance? There’s another quirk of mine that goes like this: the only thing worth doing in moderation is moderation. While I’m pretty convinced that my kids could easily run into trouble with unlimited screen time, I often wonder about the inverse: would they be better off without iPhones, iPads, and TVs in their lives? And how the heck could this experiment be pulled off? There are some interesting studies cited in this article, some of which scare the living daylights out of me.

Obviously, a mirror is also in order. I’m not sure how much particular screen time activities are enriching my own life, but it’s hard to imagine that I don’t derive some benefit from them (though I could be in denial). Conversely, when I look at my kids (and other kids) fixate on screens I never had at a similar age, I can’t help but wonder if the answer is less about screen time and more about the substitution effect (i.e., what is the time in front of said screen a substitute for?). This problem vexes me for a few reasons:

1. The asymmetry of it—getting it “wrong” could have outsized negative consequences, especially during so-called critical windows of development (which adults are presumably far out from)

2. The long time horizon—problems with long feedback loops (like longevity) are generally harder to find convergence on a “solution”

3. My general lack of insight—I don’t feel any better at thinking through this than the next person, and therefore feel somewhat at the mercy of others

It’s remarkable how hyperconnected we are with the world due to technology and social networks, but the irony of all ironies is that the tradeoff is often a detachment from our everyday relationships with those closest to us. This seems like an inescapable reality for us to address and I feel woefully unprepared to deal with it. Sorry for the downer email.

– Peter

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