Columns, Opinions

Vilsan ’19: The simple pleasures

By
Staff Columnist
Monday, October 1, 2018

He is nine years old, 10 at most. His feet dangle above the ground. His tiny arms rest uncomfortably on the dinner table. He is holding in his miniature hands the newest iPhone, swiping and scrolling as though it were second nature. Conversation swells around him, but he is unaware. Then, minutes later, he carefully places the iPhone on the table and turns to his mother.

“I’m bored,” he declares. “Give me the Nintendo.”

Do you recognize this boy? He’s everywhere. He’s a product of the technological age — an age in which children are given iPads when their parents are busy instead of being told to go play outside. Indeed, studies show that on average, an American child receives their first phone at age 10. He is an undeniable fixture of our consumer society. He is fed advertisements with his cereal. He cannot imagine fashioning a fantastical world using only a box and a stick, because he has always had limitless entertainment at his fingertips, prepackaged for his convenience.

What does this boy convey about our society, about our ability to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, instead of buying our entertainment and exchanging the old model for the new almost immediately? As technology continues to encroach upon our daily lives, should we be adapting or fighting against it?

Silicon Valley is perhaps the most recognizable technological space in the world. Yet according to Business Insider, Silicon Valley parents are raising their children in a relatively tech-free way, because they’re fully exposed to the potentially harmful effects of socializing their children in an environment dominated by technology. Indeed, a recent survey of the Silicon Valley community uncovered common concerns that excessive technological use is shortening attention spans and creating a culture of dependency. The potential benefits of technology are innumerable, as the Silicon Valley community can certainly attest to. But that doesn’t mean that there are no associated risks. It is important to understand that technology changes the way we think, behave and interact with others. Excessive exposure from a young age has detrimental effects on our mental health, our ability to make close friendships and our capacity to maintain focus.

As college students, it’s probably too early to start thinking about parenting techniques for our future Apple-obsessed offspring, but it isn’t too early to think about the ways in which the technological age has impacted our own ability to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

That child that I described at the dinner table will grow up to be a young adult who is similar to me. As a senior, I was born on the cusp of the 21st century. That means that I actually got to go play outside and that my first cell phone had an antenna. But by the time I was a preteen, social media and gadgets were very much a part of my daily life, and as a young adult technology monopolizes most of my time. According to Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California, technology has effects on our brains similar to those caused by drugs, ultimately leading to addiction. When exposed to technology at an age before the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, we are more susceptible to these addictive effects and more likely to feel withdrawal symptoms when we are without our phones.

Think about it. When is the last time you went a full day without tech? When’s the last time you played a board game instead of a video game, or read a paperback instead of a PDF file? We may like to think that we are independent from our technology, and we may scoff at the young boy unable to put down his phone. We’re not like that, we think to ourselves. We were born before the 2000s. But the truth is we may be just as addicted to our tech and just as restless.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that we renounce technology altogether and return to ancient times. Instead, I am proposing a return to the simple pleasures in life, if only occasionally. I am proposing a tech-free Sunday, one spent with friends and family, with a good book or a board game. I am asking for a little bit of imagination — for us to find the fantastical in everyday objects and realities instead of finding our entertainment in tech.

Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at fabiana_vilsan@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.