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switch off Archives - Abigail Joffe

Why Don’t You? Switching off in Silicon Valley

When I was a kid there was a programme on tv called Why Don’t You ?  , the catchphrase being: Why don’t you just switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead ?

A great idea from some well meaning  and morally motivated producers in the BBC, but did it work ? Not in my experience , because even then in its now laughably infant form , television was addictive and parents would despair at the long hours their children languished in front of it. They lamented their declining literacy skills. As Willy Wonka said in Charlie in The Chocolate Factory : ” What did children do before television? They used to read!”

So plus ca change and plus la meme chose we might say. Perhaps, except in those days in the 198o’s television was only broadcast at certain times of day. It was limited in its availability : there was a nine o’clock watershed , a cut off at midnight and nothing except soccer, snooker and cricket on Saturday afternoons. Guess what ? I used to close the curtains on sunny afternoons and watch cricket and snooker. I drew the line at soccer.

We now live in a world where stimulation through our multiple devices is unlimited in its availability. a world that is switched on and connected all the time . A world where we are permanently distracted and perpetually overloaded with information and seduced by advertising. A world in which we are literally addicted to  technological distraction. Most adults find it difficult to control our addiction so how can we expect this of our children? The impact on social relationships and family communication is evident, without any study to prove it. So I was interested to read this week about something of a counter revolution taking place in Silicon Valley led by some of the creators of  the most highly addictive and popular smartphone and social media  features : the ‘pull to refresh mechanism’ and the  Facebook ‘like’ button.

A number of high achieving technological innovators now turned ‘refusenik’ were interviewed in The Guardian article : Our minds can be hijacked: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia  

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