Young People Cop to It: Technology Is Bad for Us

Photo: Technology Through Young Eyes

Technology in all of its forms -- social networks, smart phones, the Web, instant messaging, online gaming -- is a net loss for today's young people, at least according to one group of Silicon Valley eighth-graders.

"It's bad for us, but it sure is fun," said Eric Bautista, 13, one of the students in Sister Jolene Schmitz's junior high school class at Resurrection School in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Admittedly, this informal survey offers, at best, only anecdotal evidence. Still, it is pretty shocking that a group of young teenagers, all of them technologically very astute and living in the very heart of Silicon Valley, would come to such a conclusion.

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These kids, born about the time the Internet became widely adopted, live within blocks of where the Intel microprocessor, the Apple computer and the Atari video game all were invented. They spend their days (and nights) surfing the Web, playing online games and instant messaging. Most have cell phones in their backpacks. And many have at least one parent who works in the electronics industry.

Yet, when asked to weigh the benefits of having high technology in their lives versus the costs -- intellectually, emotionally, socially -- of that technology, the class voted 31-3 negative … a ratio so extreme that it argues against an aberration and toward a larger question about the overall impact of technology on the lives of our young people.

"We try to find the happy medium," said Stephanie Abreu, 13, "But we don't know where it is."

This isn't to say that the eighth-graders, all of them heading off to top-tier Silicon Valley high schools, don't love their tech toys and tools. On the contrary, when asked to list all of the positives about tech, they weren't short of answers: access to information with unprecedented scope, the ability to socialize with large groups over vast distances, 24/7 multi-media communication, and perhaps best of all, whole new worlds of entertainment.

Moreover, this brave new digital world has always been part of their lives and, perhaps a bit jaded by it all, they find the idea of a world without computers and cell phones surprisingly appealing: In a class vote, one-third of the students said they would prefer to have lived in the long-ago, pre-tech world of the late 1950s.

When asked what they find wrong with living in our modern, wired, Web world, the students had no shortage of answers, most of which fell into a half-dozen categories. I'll let the students largely speak for themselves -- voices describing the dark side of the tech revolution with a sincerity few of us adults have ever heard before:

Time-waster: "Technology is the key to procrastination," said Kenny Kobetsky, 14. Eighty percent of the class said they had missed sleep because of playing on the Internet, 50 percent said they had forgotten to do homework for the same reason. "The Internet is just so tantalizing," said Nick Gregov, 14. "I actually think McDonald's is healthier than my computer," added Blake Billiet, 13. Though the students did admit that the Web and cell phone can save time that used to be burned up driving to the store or library, few felt that these gains exceeded the many hours wasted on text or Web surfing.

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