By Harleen Kaur Bagga

Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

The Digital Revolution has succeeded in fostering an indelible and irrevocable change in the way information is organized across the world. Though it can be argued that the digital divide is still staggeringly massive, the fact that digital media has become an all-pervasive influence in the lives of many cannot be denied at all. From young children to aged people, everyone experiences cultural changes governed by media. Digital media is constantly changing learning and discourse systems, with conversations being informed by technology. Hence, it is no wonder that this has been one of the most cherished topics up for debate.

Claiming that this issue has been “almost as important as climate change”, Baroness Susan Greenfield cautions about the “unprecedented changes” that are brought about by the constant interaction of children with digital technology. The catastrophic importance of this issue has recently been grossly realized in the Slender Man stabbing incidents, with two twelve-year olds from Wisconsin being charged with stabbing their classmate nineteen times in order to show their ‘allegiance’ to the mythological online creature. Discussion forums have been rampant with debates about the appropriateness of convicting the two girls as adults, which can lead them to face sixty years of prison time. And even though many are flinching away at the idea and reiterating that those in question are only twelve-year olds (Didn’t they believe in Slender Man after all?), there is still a widespread horror about the way the crime was premeditated.

The malleability of the young mind is often stressed with reference to the usage of new technologies. This complete brainwashing of the child’s mind, as is evident in this case, can be glimpsed when one of the accused claimed that the creature appeared in her dreams, watching her, and reading her mind. The Slender Man game website states, “Once his arms are outstretched, his victims are put into something of a hypnotized state, where they are utterly helpless to stop themselves from walking into them.” Even an adult reading this and then playing the dread-inducing game will have his heartbeat pounding in his ears at the unnerving background music coupled with the dark atmosphere of the game.

A recent MTS advertisement, located in a hospital delivery scene, depicts a newborn grabbing a tablet out of his anxious father’s hands, cutting the umbilical cord, clicking a selfie with the nurse and sashaying out of the hospital with the help of a map app. Furthermore, three-year olds are increasingly getting better than their adult counterparts at Temple Run and Minion Rush. And as a consequence, the resourceful app-designers have discovered a keen market of young kids and are working towards making apps specifically targeting their interests. Angry Birds has come out with a claim of engaging with educational tools with the launch of its Angry Birds Playground, developed in partnership with Helsinki University. Moreover, a London-based company MakieLab has gifted children the interesting opportunity to customize their own dolls through its website or app, and then ordering them online-converting virtual goods into real goods. Tablets and video-games are increasingly being identified as ’digital babysitters’ with parents finding solace in gadgets which help keep the kid out of trouble.

Yet, it cannot be forgotten that there still exists moral panic about this intense, addicting and widespread media consumption, sprouting from the threat of ‘abnormal’ behaviour where the individual is susceptible to becoming desensitized, distant, passive, and most importantly, attention-deficient. Multitasking, which is said to be a beneficial by-product of media consumption turns out to be not so beneficial after all, with researchers claiming that habitual multitasking can lead to ADHD. Moreover, Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows, bemoans the rise of “pancake people” who possess a wide albeit superficial knowledge and are in the habit of skim-reading headlines. A more palpable threat has recently been sighted in the accelerating episodes of cyber-bullying with the suicides of Tyler Clementi and Rehtaeh Parsons being a few of the key highlights.

All this then begs the question, how much of digital media is enough? The Internet comes with its own mixed package of good and bad. After all, one cannot dismiss the spread in information dissemination and awareness along with increasing exposure to other geographies and communities, with kids stumbling onto and befriending like-minded people across continents. It is therefore, quite necessary to take a holistic approach towards this issue. Parents have been encouraged to be active participants in their child’s interactions with digital technology, instead of blatantly assigning good and bad labels. Moreover, the American Academy of Paediatrics has come up with a design for a Family Media Use Plan to be agreed upon by every member of the family. All these steps can hopefully address and mitigate the panic over increasing media-consumption, creating a more balanced digital media culture.

Harleen  is an Art and Literature enthusiast, currently studying English lit at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. She lives in a world of hyperbole and Homeric similes and is irrevocably in love with descriptive words. Quite fond of stationery, the smell of old books, and the Harry Potter fandom, she most unfortunately possesses a traitorous mouth and a natural propensity to fall into embarrassing situations. You can reach her at subanibagga@yahoo.com.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind