53 hours a week online: How tweet it isn't

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Recently, a study came out finding that American kids spend, on average, seven hours and 38 minutes a day using electronic media.

That's more than 53 hours a week listening to music, watching TV, playing video games, phoning, texting, Tweeting and, I suppose, doing a little homework on the computer now and then.

I'm a big believer in nuance, but when kids are spending half their waking hours plugged into the electronic world, there's no need for it. Let's just call it what it is: horrible.

I say this as someone who wasted a lot of time in front of a television set. In what ways did I miss out on enriching experiences by watching My Mother the Car or Me and The Chimp (both actual shows, believe it or not) in my dissolute youth? I don't know. But I'll hazard a guess: Anything I would have done instead - up to and possibly including criminal misdemeanors - might have been preferable.

And I guarantee you I didn't spend anywhere near seven hours a day in front of a television. This was before cable and DVDs and so forth. The pickings were pretty slim. Sooner or later, a kid just gave up and went outside to play.

How did we get to the point that kids are spending so much time in an electronic world instead of, you know, living? I suppose it just snuck up on us.

One thing was layered onto another. Radio came first. Then phonographs. Then TV. Then 24-hour-a-day TV. Then computers, video games and cell phones. They submerged us, but it was a slow flood.

I think the water went from puddle to pond on June 22, 1979. That's the day Sony launched the Walkman. From that point on, people could live in private music environments if they chose.

Everything that has happened since has largely been a race toward similar portability: Cell phones had to get smaller. Video games had to become hand-held video games. Kids now tote entire music libraries around in their iPods.

Now here's the thing: No kid, I don't care how well-organized, has time to spend seven hours a day using electronic gadgets unless he is multitasking. And there is no such thing as effective multitasking. Studies have shown that humans can't do it. They think they can, but their performance is mediocre. Yet, that's what we're letting kids do.

Knowing this, you'd think that the news of the research on use of electronics would have been treated as a national emergency. Well, no. It was largely a one-day story. There was a little hand-wringing by some experts, a little equivocating by others, and then it just got nudged out by fresher news.

It's kind of ironic that the same electronic devices that enable us to disseminate word of such research also ensure that we don't concentrate on it for very long.

We have short attention spans in this country. Why do you suppose that is?

Joe Blundo's column, So to Speak, appears in the Life section of The Columbus Dispatch. It's a mix of humor, human interest and information. A collection of his columns has been published in the book Dancing Dads, Defective Peeps and Buckeye Misadventures. He lives in Worthington with his wife and two children.