The Age of the (ubiquitous, big) Screen

As much as many pan the notion, I believe we have entered the Age of the Screen. If you’re the observant type, you’ll notice screens are everywhere. There are multiples in our houses, and not just TVs. How many of us own more than one computer, tablet, and smartphone? I know I’m guilty, and likely so are you. And that doesn’t even include the screens at work, school, the restaurant, and just about everywhere else we look.

There is lots of press about the negatives of “screen time,” and to be sure, unmanaged, it is a negative, but I posit that our problem with screen time and all these ubiquitous, big screens is that we haven’t figured out how to use them yet. We’re in an era where technology is developing faster than we understand its impact, and it shows.

Follow me here: one of the main arguments against screen time is that it is addictive and changes brain development, especially in children. The fact that is true is undeniable, yet it also glosses over a particular set of facts: both the addiction and the development are manageable if we don’t stop doing the things we did before the screens. Screens are a modern addition to a long history that changes how humans behave, and what is lacking is management.

I find this subject particularly fascinating because so much of what I do right now involves screens. I create art on them. I write on them. I communicate on them. I interact on them. In those ways, screens are incredibly beneficial for me in a variety of ways. Where the screens fail me is when I use them to sate my sometimes overwhelming boredom by almost ritualistic use of the screen as brain candy. That failure is fixable. It’s a simple matter of doing other things. It’s a matter of discipline.

For me, the beauty of the screens is that they work the way my brain does. I get not everyone feels that way. But the fact is screens are here to stay, so we should start learning how to manage them for the best use possible. And that management is possible. We just have to do it.


The science of do as I say

For whatever reason, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about science recently, especially as it applies to getting kids interested in science and keeping them interested.

One of the points I keep coming back to in this thinking is how often science is sold to kids in a very narrow and limited view of the universe. This view seems to say that science is this small set of things and that anything that lies outside that set is not real science.

What I see in this view is teaching a worldview to kids that does not mesh with what scientists, especially physicists and biologists, are revealing to all of us about the universe. Even as scientific inquiry reveals the universe to be more complex and more bizarre than we imagined, the worldview sold to kids seems to be becoming narrower and more boring.

What I would love to see happening in the scientific world is encouraging kids to explore their environments free of preconceptions. Sure, teach them what we think we already know, but be sure to emphasize we only know it until new or better evidence comes along. We should teach kids to find the flaws in what we think we know instead of proclaiming we already know it.

After all, isn’t that what the scientific world demands of other ways of thinking? That should be a demand that cuts both ways.


Lego Kidsfest Cincinnati 2012

I have come to believe engaging in the act of creation brings out the best in many of us.

Granted, that’s not a hard and fast rule, but I witnessed something amazing this past weekend when I attended the 2012 Cincinnati LEGO KidsFest with my niece and brother-in-law: thousands of kids and parents, building things with LEGOs, and without the anarchy one normally associates with such large gatherings of modern children and adults.

Frankly, I was flabbergasted at just how civil and fun the whole thing was. I watched hundreds of kids, most of them strangers, wade through a two foot deep pile of bricks, searching for pieces and helping other kids find what they were looking for. I watched parents and kids work together to build fantastic buildings to populate a huge outline of the United States. I watched kids and parents wait patiently in line to participate in activities without the fighting and fuss one normally associates with such things.

I blame the bricks.

From my point of view, it was easy to avoid all the fuss and fight because everyone was focused on creating something. They could see the outcome and they wanted to be a part of it, and I think everyone knew that they had to stay civil if they wanted to participate. It worked, and it was amazing.

Now, here’s where I wax philosophical about what I will grant you was really a giant commercial to sell more LEGOs: I have to admit that what I saw in that gathering could easily be a thing that could happen in our nation and our world as a whole if we tried. If we look back at our own history and think about all the times we have been united to accomplish common causes, we can see the same effect. It is possible for us to unite to accomplish amazing goals if we want to accomplish them, but the secret to such goals is that they have to be focused on creating something.

It is my fondest hope that the parents and kids at the LEGO KidsFest caught a glimmer of what I did and that it planted a seed. It’s one we all need to nurture and grow.