Scientists have adopted the term ‘technoference’ to describe the way that mobile phones intrude on and interrupt everyday conversations and the way they interrupt other aspects of people’s daily lives.
It is worrying that family life is being interrupted by technology. Whilst technology has significant benefits, continual use of technology can impact detrimentally on the quality of people’s interactions and conversations. We live in a society where people are constantly attached to their technology. People interact with technology on public transport, in meetings and during leisure time rather than engaging in productive, meaningful conversations. It seems that people would rather interact with a phone rather than having a conversation and whilst this is not necessarily a problem in some contexts, it can have a negative impact in other contexts. For example, young children require social interaction with adults. This allows them to develop secure attachments with significant others, it enables them to learn about the world and through conversation children are exposed to language. Exposure to language underpins reading and writing development. Children who have rich exposure to language become better readers, better writers and understand far better what they are reading. Lack of exposure to language can impact detrimentally on the structure of the brain. This can create reading difficulties and even lead to difficulties which are consistent with dyslexia, even though the difficulties may not have a genetic origin. The brain is malleable. It is responsive to environmental influences and lack of exposure to language can impact on phonological and phonemic awareness. Both of these skills play a critical role in reading development. Interacting with technology can restrict opportunities for communication between babies, children and their parents and can interrupt the flow of normal conversation.
Our research in the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools demonstrates that adolescents are attached to their phones during the night. They are desperate to network and keep up-to-date with their online peers. This results in broken sleep and tiredness during the school day. Adolescents need approximately 8-10 hours sleep but our research demonstrates that some get as little as 2 hours sleep. These students attend school in a state of exhaustion. They are too tired to concentrate and it affects their learning and their behaviour. Disengagement in lessons results in them falling behind in their schoolwork and they then develop other problems such as low confidence and low self-worth.
Realtime social connections are vital for positive wellbeing. Schools play a key role in teaching young people about how to stay healthy and in particular, the need for sleep. However, parents also play a critical role in supporting young people to develop positive habits through setting boundaries. Examples of boundaries might include restricting access to technology in bedrooms and at mealtimes. Also parents need to be good role models by ensuring that they do not allow technology to interrupt conversations and other daily experiences.
Authors:Jonathan Glazzard Professor, CED DU Carnegie School of Education and Samuel Stones, Associate Researcher.