When I was diagnosed with ADHD last year, I thought it was a larf. The questions my psychiatrist asked—all ultra-thorough 15 of them—were transparent. I saw the loopholes. I could have (and may have) faked the whole thing just to gobble legal speed.
It’s precisely this ease of access that forms our suspicious opinion of ADHD, the drugs, and the doctors who prescribe them. Some even believe ADHD is an invention, fashioned to be a fashion by drug companies.
More often than not, we hold technology (our sin, our soul) responsible for the deconstruction of attention spans. This, of course, is flat-out technophobia, but that’s just the way the river flows.
And so researchers continue to study technology’s repercussions on the budding mind, with the latest being:
47% Of Kids Who Are Heavy Technology Users Get Poor Grades
(I shouldn’t even cite this study, because it has no actual source. But I feel its existence—and the mindless solemnity we impart upon it—makes an even stronger point.)
This “study” “found” that due to “The Screen Generation’s digital diet” (terms that make me throw up in my mouth), traditional learning has deteriorated, resulting in subpar grades from otherwise intelligent young people. Emphasis on traditional.
Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston, told The New York Times:
“[Children’s] brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing. The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”
Differently. Sounds scary. It isn’t, necessarily.
That same New York Times article—which, ironically, runs the length of six web pages, rendering it unreadable for people with hazy focus—delves into the lives of tech-soaked teens and their parents, who are fearful that modernism has destroyed scholarship.
One girl, who sends a mind-boggling 27,000 text messages per month, blames technology for getting two B’s on her report card. As far as I can see it, the subtext here is that she lacks self-discipline and would rather hold robots accountable than take it upon herself.
At least she’s getting B’s. At least she can text. At least she has a phone.
Hello, I Saw You, I Know You, I Knew You—I Think I Can Remember Your Name
The dwindling attention span—and our society’s increasing reliance on drugs as Band-Aids—is undeniable. As of 2007, the CDC found that in the United States:
- Approximately 9.5% or 5.4 million children 4-17 years of age have been diagnosed with ADHD
- The percentage of children with a parent-reported ADHD diagnosis increased by 22% between 2003 and 2007
- 2.7 million youth ages 4-17 years (66.3% of those with a current diagnosis) were receiving medication treatment for the disorder
No matter how you feel about the legitimacy of ADHD, millions of kids are wearing its brand name T-shirt and dining on its corporate-sponsored drugs. If ADHD is, in fact, bogus, we’ve got an epidemic on our hands. If it’s genuine, it’s predominant enough to warrant recognition. Our brains have changed.
“Bring Back Boredom”
“Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body. But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.”
So says Dr. Michael Rich, who adds that he wants to “bring back boredom.” (Which, if that’s not a joke, is basically prescription for lobotomies.)
Dr. Rich doesn’t suggest throwing away our cellphones, laptops, tablets, and video game consoles; he recommends taking a more balanced approach to the “powerful tools necessary to compete and succeed in modern life.” Emphasis on necessary, which implies Dr. Rich prejudices against specific technologies—and I’ll betcha a month’s supply of Vyvanse, the Cadillac of ADHD drugs, he’s daggering video games.
How does Dr. Rich know how to succeed in modern life? He completed his undergraduate degree in 1977—over twenty years before the Internet proliferated and became the biggest source not only of time-sucks, but also of education.
Modern World I’m Not Pleased To Meet You (You Just Bring Me Down)
The Times piece is straight-up journalism and offers no solutions. But when the WWWolf is already halfway finished chewing through Peter’s tender frontal lobe, solutions are what we crave.
Tony Schwartz, writing for Business Insider, offers three: parents need to model good behavior, and they also need to recognize that technologies “are as addictive as any other drug or diversion that provides an instant hit of pleasure and/or an escape from pain.”
Of course parents need to serve as virtuous models to the best of their abilities (lay off the Schlitz, read at bedtime, recognize that the birds and the bees also applies to homosexuals), but the addictive qualities of technology have yet to be proven, so I’m throwing that one out.
His third point—which basically contradicts the previous two—is the most resonant:
Parents and teachers alike ought to encourage a new way of working. Whether it’s for homework or for office work, the best way to get things done is in periods of interrupted work no longer than 90 minutes, followed by true renewal. We embed, contextualize, and synthesize learning during downtime—which is what we’ve sacrificed in our addiction to constant connection.
That’s sound. But if we expect kids to learn differently—taking into consideration the unstoppable nature of technological advancement and its as of yet undetermined effects on the blossoming young mind—why shouldn’t we overhaul our concepts of education and employment?
Instead of clasping to our great-grandfather’s approach to the grind, schools need to ditch pedagogy and adapt to the transformation. Businesses, too, should model their 9 to 5 off the newly graduated—and maybe see that 9 to 5 just doesn’t work anymore.
If it can be supposed that the technological revolution is the future of capitalism, it makes the most sense to rely on those who never knew a day without the Internet, whose understanding of computing is ingrained in their DNA, and who can bring outta-the-box thinking into the boardroom.
But it seems we’re all too willing to clasp mournfully onto the moldy and throw tantrums whenever a new gadget threatens our too-long-established archetypes. We’re prejudicing the young for their evolution, holding them accountable to the same indoctrination under which we’ve suffered for centuries, when we could be reevaluating how things are done and how they can change.
In that light, it’s hard to see this technophobia as anything but a set-up, a willful intent to watch ‘em fail. And that, folks, is the antithesis of progress—and it makes no sense.