Screaming about screen time

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As people spend more time with computers, smart phones and tablets, screens are really taking over. What is the social impact of our intimate relationship with these screens, and the technology and networks behind them? Is this just something older people grouse about? Can we sort out the advantages and disadvantages?

A young boy and girl seated on a couch, huddling over an iPad
The wildly successful iPad added another category of handheld gadget to the pantheon of digital distraction.

Find the article:

Discussion Questions

  1. How much do students multi-task (use several screen devices at once) in the average day?
  2. How would students measure, in the laboratory, the impact of digital media? (Propose using psychological tests for memory, alertness and decision-making.)
  3. Explore: Think ahead 10 or 15 years: What social changes can we expect from expanded use of smart phones, tablets and portable computers?
  4. Look back: Communication technology has already changed society: Telegraph, telephone, radio and TV have all played a role in shrinking the globe. What is similar, and what is different, about the newest revolution in communications?

Lesson Plans/Activities

  1. Ask students to imagine (or actually carry out!) 24 hours without their phone. What could they do better? What would be more difficult? How would they spend their free time? How would their social life change?
  2. The article includes one person’s hints for cell-phone etiquette. Ask students to compile their own version, and compare it to the one in the article. What explains the students’ choices?
  3. Technology is never static. Ask students to research changes caused by the invention of the telegraph or (land-line) telephone. How did these inventions alter space and time? How quickly did they become widespread?