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Tech – a new tool for old habits

By Lucy Doyle, writer, Parent Zone


I recently read an article entitled: are we liberated by tech – or does it enslave us? [1] Although it was an excellently researched article, citing writers, philosophers and economists, it only served to highlight how often we separate technology from everything else, even though it is often intrinsic to the things we do every day.

It’s understandable there are so many articles discussing the sins or virtues of ‘tech’ – we’re trying to make sense of it. We like to organise concepts: putting things into boxes; categorising them together, but doing the same with ‘tech’ is an over-simplification of a huge swathe of modern existence.

In my view, talking about ‘tech’ in such a generic way is unhelpful.

We need to stop seeing technology as a standalone thing, apart from our normal lives and behaviour. It isn’t.

At a recent Parent Zone training day, we touched on the ‘tech: good or bad?’ debate. Someone said something which I thought was really apt: ‘we shouldn’t demonise tech… it’s just another tool for doing what we’ve always done.’

For example, we’ve always been social creatures that enjoy meeting new people, and endeavour to stay in touch with old friends and family. Before, it was a letter, now it’s an email, a WhatsApp message, a snapchat or a Skype call. Despite these modern forms of communication varying in style or content (long and wordy; short and snappy; text or image) they are just new forms of communicating.

When you ask a child what they’re doing on the computer, they’ll say they’re ‘playing a game’, ‘talking to friends’ or ‘doing their homework’: the fact that they’re doing these things using a device doesn’t factor into it – the boundary between online and offline isn’t there. The activity comes first, whether they’re using a computer to do it or not is irrelevant.

When we start to see technology as a modern way of doing the things we’ve always done, it can help us feel less feel less panicky about screen time, too.

There is far too much emphasis placed on using a device and wasting time. If we see a child engrossed in something on a tablet, we might worry, but if we see them looking at a book, we don’t, despite the fact that they might be doing the same thing: reading.

We also often forget or ignore all the time we spend using technology to be productive. Most of us spend about 8 hours a day in front of computer screens at work, working. And so do our children: they rely on the internet just as much as we do to get their school work done.

It goes to show how screen time isn’t something you can oversimplify: you could be spending time on a screen doing any number of things: you could be playing a moronic, violent game, messaging friends, writing an article, or reading the news. What’s the difference between reading the news on a screen and reading it on a cumbersome broadsheet newspaper? One makes you look more engaged with current affairs than the other – but that’s all.

Any new technology is at first approached by society with mistrust, but it’s about time we stopped demonising, (or eulogising) tech. It’s now intrinsic to our everyday lives, whether it’s learning, playing, communicating, dating or any other activity modern society has always done.

There’s no point in trying to put it in a box, regardless of its labelling: it doesn’t fit.