The Ticking Tech-Detox Timebomb

I’m not a big fan of thinking too far ahead during the Coronavirus Era. Anything you think is going to happen doesn’t. Unexpected things happen all the time. Right now, in Australia, it feels like the whole things is coming to an end. But look at Singapore. And winter is coming. Better to sit back, apply an acceptance mind-frame to the whole thing, and allow the ride to take us where it will.

But, if I may be so bold as to make a prediction, there is one looming product of our modified lifestyles. One theme, that keeps coming up in my conversations with clients and friends and family, is the rapid uptake of technology for work, socialising and recreation. Our kids are using technology more often and in more varied ways. We ourselves (adults etc.) are using technology to maintain a semblance of our old existence.

What’s so bad about technology? Would we be able to socially distance without it? Would we be able to work from home without Zoom? Would kids be able to learn at home without Google Classroom? There is no doubt that pre-digital revolution jobs and classroom wouldn’t be able to cope with such remoteness.

The problem is that screen time is stickily addictive. The metric by which apps measure themselves is attention time. Many of the smartest people in the world are dedicating their enormous mental resources toward making you stick more closely to your phone or computer.

And it’s comforting to do so. It’s normal in a crisis to revert to your tried and true coping mechanisms. For some its overeating. Its alcohol for some. But these days, increasingly, it’s sticking your face in your phone and indulging in your guiltiest digital delight. For some that’s gaming. It’s social media for some. My poison is online news.

Pre-Covid, there were limits to how much time you could spend indulging the electric vice. Jobs and schools to go to. It goes without saying that this is no longer the case. But one day, perhaps soon, we will be asked to return to “normal”. Will we want to? Will we be capable of doing so?

Safely buffered from the wild world behind our screens, maybe we’ll balk at the thought of those unpredictable, uncontrollable interactions with others of the past. Maybe we’ll just dig our heels in and refuse to go back. Maybe we’ll rationalise our newfound social timidity by telling ourselves and others that we are just more innovative, progressive. Maybe we’ll experience health fears or specious complaints when asked to return.

And this is especially likely with kids. The brains of children are forming and adapting to the new landscape. In my experience, kids during Covid are being asked to do a lot more online learning. True, most schools are also offering non-online tasks for kids. But these tasks are harder to give feedback on, and parents find it easier to park kids in front of a screen during work time (again from experience).

The timebomb explodes when this all ends. I predict a bleary-eyed and grouchy population white-knuckling their first few weeks at work. I predict a bunch of terrorising, tantruming tweens, revolting against school attendance and demanding their devices. I predict that many will be lost to the experience machine forever. Never to return from cyber safety-land. The human domestication project slouching ever-forward whether we like it or not.

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