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March 8, 2017

The screen culture


March 8, 2017

The digital age has brought in its wake a fundamentally new culture which, among other things, has introduced us to technology and redefined our relationship with the real world. Children, particularly teenagers, have fallen in love with screens and should be rightly called ‘screenagers’. We have embraced new technology so rapidly that those who dare challenge its pernicious effects do so at the cost of being dubbed “tortoises” in a fast-paced race.

Presence in the virtual world is no longer a luxury. From the heads of states to hawkers in the streets, everyone is glued to TV screens, computers and smartphones, whether at work, outside or in homes. Communication is increasingly done via email, text messages and tele/video-conferencing rather than in person. Most of us have more friends online than in the community in which we live and the number for the former is increasing every passing day. Not surprisingly, we tend to have more information about the events taking place at the other end of the world rather than what is happening in our own neighbourhoods.

The screen culture not only affects the way we relate to one another but also how our children learn and think. Children as young as six-year-olds spend about six or more hours sitting in front of a screen reading, surfing and playing. Adults spend even more time on screen, looking for new friends, information, or just to have fun in their leisure time. Google is now the main source of locating places and learning about anything. Does this mean that our children will develop into smarter and more responsible human beings as a result of access to more information and diverse ideas online?

Many researchers contest the idea of learning better and more from online resources. Research suggests that teens are faster at reading online but their attention span is much shorter and they skip anything which tends to be intellectually demanding. Sitting in front of a screen, children always appear to be in a hurry and are engaged in multi-tasking. Like rabbits, they jump around, briefly chewing on a new chunk of information and then screening off to another snack without digesting anything. This euphoria for new and different creates fewer opportunities to develop original thinking.

To be more precise, the digital devices in possession of children are affecting them negatively. They no longer bother to learn or think it is important to remember anything if it can be recalled at the touch of a screen. What they do not realise is the fact that original thinking has always been the outcome of conscious effort, deep reflection and awareness of the big picture. Philosophers, scientists, and leaders, who have left behind a rich intellectual and social legacy, used to isolate themselves from the prevailing fashion and trends of society in order to think and reflect.

‘Screenagers’ have not only developed problems like attention deficit disorders and superficial knowledge, they have no time and space available for physical exercise. Problems such as obesity and psychological disorders are rising primarily due to the excess intake of junk food and lack of physical activity. Traditional games, which were physically demanding and socially harmonising, are on the verge of extinction because video games have become the norm of the day. My own kids snatch away my laptop and smart phone as soon as I enter the house to watch cartoons and play other games.

One cannot and should not halt the transition into the digital age but one has to understand its dynamics and the culture it brings into play. We should not allow our children to live in a society that has plenty of answers but no good questions. We cannot afford a society where consent is manufactured and conformity is promoted.

The screen culture should not be allowed to cut us off from what is noble, natural and real. This requires planned efforts at home, in schools and at work so that we can capitalise on the new technology without capitulating to its harmful effects.


The writer teaches at the Sarhad

Email: [email protected]


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