The ugly side of the Internet and computers on families

Whilst we celebrate all the positive sides of technology in our lives, we must never lose sight of the potential damage that inappropriate use or over-reliance on technology may cause. I heard a story on Radio 4 last week, which was about a son attacking his father when he tried to take his son’s computer away. That story sadly reminds me of an ongoing situation of a distant relative of ours. There is an 18-year-old young man who is now completely addicted to the Internet. It saddens me to say, but like the story of the father on Radio 4 a few months ago, this young relative of mine attacked his father too, when the father tried to take his computer away. The only things the boy does for 24 hour a day is eat, sleep and surf the Internet. He does not even play with the dogs or play in the garden any more. This is all he has done since leaving school at 16 and of course, he has no job and he is not in college or studying any course whatsoever. I know both his mother and father very well and I know that they supported him throughout school and devoted a lot of their time and resources in doing their very best to bring him up as a normal child.

It is real and it can happen to any family 

This above is an extreme case but just like the story I heard on Radio 4, it is real and it can happen to any family. The above story is very bad but there are even worse things. There are violent people using the Internet or other aspects of technology to share and spread information and to plan and carry out acts of criminality. We also have the issue of paedophilia by despicable people who prey on their young victims online and also teenagers who are not happy with their lives using the Internet to find information on how to commit suicide.

Less harmful but still damaging effects of computers

One bad effect of the Internet which is more subtle but still extremely damaging to young people is the way in which over-reliance on electronic devices and technology is impeding their development. Too many young people spend so much time on electronic devices. This means that other aspects of their development have not been given the chance to grow or be nurtured, depriving them of other more valuable experiences as they grow up. For example, spending a lot of time gaming, surfing the Internet or Facebooking means they spend less time reading, playing with their friends and siblings, doing drama or dancing or doing sports. Another point to bear in mind is the negative effects on the health of young people such as obesity. Many sit in one place for a long time – perhaps drinking coke and eating crisps or chocolate as they interact with their electronic device or watch TV. The other health issue relates to their eyesight, which suffers as a result of spending too much time in front of the computer.

You may want to argue that young people can read on a computer but I will argue very strongly that it is not the same as reading physical printed books. There are two reasons for this. One is that the idea of doing one meaningful thing on an electronic device usually leads to distraction and temptation to drift into something else and not all of us have the discipline to stay focused. The second reason is that there is a romantic and emotional attachment to the love of books by those who read printed books. The break away from ‘the screen’ – be it the screen of a television, a computer or a smart phone, is a refreshing and enriching experience. Some of us still love the smell of books and all the romance associated with holding a book! There is actually a third reason, which is that examinations are still done on paper and not on computers in the vast majority of cases. Too many intelligent young people cannot write as well as they should and I see them losing marks in the examination as a result of their inability to articulate themselves on paper.

Whilst we celebrate the good aspects, we ought to examine the potential detrimental effects that technology has had and will continue to have on society – particularly young people as they grow up. A blanket ban on the use of devices is impractical and stupid. However, young people could do with using their devices a lot less.

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In my next blog, I will be looking at how young people can invest their valuable time better and how they can be achieve so much whilst at the same time enjoying life.