First it was radio that was declared harmful to society (to children in particular). Then it was television that was blamed for mesmerizing kids (remember the term ‘idiot box’?).
More recently, it was cellular phones that were thought to promote mental impairments in young people. And now we are witnessing the destructive effects of all digital media. It really never ends! We’re talking about 90 years of media doom days.
Radio began as a family activity in the 1930s. Only later did it evolve into a solitary activity (remember the Sony Walkman radio of 1979?). But the first record of authoritative warnings about the harmful effects of radio on children was already out in 1946 in The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by the well-known American pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock.
Even in its eighth reprint in 1966 the book stated, “Radio and television bring up several problems for parents [of children six to 11].”
Television went through the same pattern. It was first thought of as something to ex-perience communally in public places (due to both the scarcity and high costs of TV sets). It only later became a living room staple.
Nonetheless, from as early as 1955, parents were referring to the TV set as the “idiot box,” and discussing how it was going to rot children’s minds. Television was also criticized because it discouraged family members from talking to one another. When kids started getting their own sets in their bedrooms, the TV was further blamed for isolating kids and rendering them antisocial.
Computers, on the other hand, were marketed to consumers as personal instruments (not family affairs) from the beginning. Only later, with the wider availability of broadband Internet, did they develop into tools to connect people across the world, thereby creating the paradox of bringing people that live apart closer, while simultaneously tearing apart people who were close by.
A recent article in The New York Times titled “Teenagers Aren’t Losing Their Minds,” reported that “parents have bought into the idea that digital technology — smartphones, video games and the like — are neurobiologically and psychologically toxic.”
The article generated a deluge of letters to the paper with comments like, “My parents never had to worry about Internet trolls and haters during Saturday morning cartoons.” And, “In the last 10 years I have noted a dramatic drop in attention spans [and] a decline in reading levels.” Also, “on college campuses we have seen a notable increase in the use of mental health services.” Finally, one letter blames parents: “It concerns me when I see a young mother strolling with her infant while looking at her phone, rather than engaging with her newborn.”
In my opinion, today’s anxious parents were considered to be TV addicts by their own parents. And those TV addicts probably had radio junkies for parents.
There’s no question that Social Media and cellular phones have become an extension of young people’s personalities these days, and that, like the TV of the past, the computer/tablet has become a new form of babysitter. But children are resilient. They survived Orson Welles’ realistic radio dramatization of a Martian invasion of Earth in 1938, the invasion of fundamentalist Christian TV shows in 1990, and they will survive the invasion of Russian trolls into their beloved Social Media.
By now, it should be clear that each generation has a new medium to criticize. It’s human nature!
(By Dom Serafini)