So asks the cover article of the fall edition of American Scholar magazine, entitled Temptation, Inc. It’s a long, wide-ranging, provocative piece that explores the many ways in which consumer technology is getting better and better at exploiting our natural impulsiveness and cravings for immediate rewards and pleasure.
As a parent and educator, it was the first few paragraphs that really grabbed my attention, this profile of a young man addicted to the online game World of Warcraft:
His endless hours as an online superhero left him physically weak, financially destitute, and so socially isolated he could barely hold a face-to-face conversation. There may also have been deeper effects. Studies suggest that heavy online gaming alters brain structures involved in decision making and self-control, much as drug and alcohol use do. Emotional development can be delayed or derailed, leaving the player with a sense of self that is incomplete, fragile, and socially disengaged—more id than superego. Or as Hilarie Cash, reSTART cofounder and an expert in online addiction, tells me, “We end up being controlled by our impulses.”
Too much screen time has adverse effects on executive function development, social development, self-control, sleep, and health in general.
I looked up the ReSTART Center and found this NPR piece on their work with recovering online, gaming, social media and cell phone addicts, When Playing Video Games Means Sitting on Life’s Sidelines. This one’s a quick read and it paints a shocking portrait of bright, talented young people disabled by their online addictions.
ReSTART has a very helpful website listing good tips and software to help monitor and regulate screen time and device use. They recommend no more than three hours of screen time per day for teens and adults, two hours max for middle-schoolers and one hour per day for younger kids.