On Processing

One of the tropes I've heard crop up since the advent of the internet, one I don't entirely doubt is true, is that people, especially young people, in the present and moving forward, are less able or less talented to process important information into their worldview. The theory goes like this: 'kids these days' are surrounded by constant media input.  They live in, as Amber Case puts it, "Compressed time," where downtime between tasks can be comprehensively filled with energy expended on other simultaneous but separate tasks.  I can watch YouTube videos while playing Tetris, and keep up an email conversation all at once.  (And by can, I mean do.  Frequently.)

This state has many advantages, and I can't emphasize enough that it's not a fundamentally evil or disadvantageous circumstance.  I am thoroughly pro-technology, and am unlikely to be convinced that the drawbacks are sufficient to do away with the internet.

But there are drawbacks, and a big one is the lack of downtime.  'Kids today' never have to disconnect, so they never learn to cope with spending time alone, unconnected, in decompressed time.

I want to avoid one of the common complaints made about this -- the circular argument against technology.  People have argued, and will argue, that constant exposure to technology is necessarily bad because it damages one's ability to cope without that technology.  But that's an irrelevant point, if the people so exposed can reasonably expect to retain the technology.  It would take a pretty serious societal collapse to eliminate the internet, and it's not in our best interests as a species to avoid acclimating to it just in case.  And besides, you could make the same arguments about clothing and shelter  -- if we didn't have them, most of us would die, quickly.  But that doesn't mean we should burn the suburbs.  (Though, maybe, for other reasons, that isn't the worst idea...)

There are other advantages to decompressed time, though.  Paramount among them is time to form one's own opinions about the world, to cement one's sense of self and to find or develop touchstones for one's identity, and to check back with those touchstones throughout one's life, whether to modify them, or to modify one's life in light of them.

I know that I, personally, suffer from this drawback.  I cope horribly with decompressed time, and it's only in recent years that I've developed a sufficiently concrete sense of the fact that decompressed time does, eventually, end that I can worry less about self-destructive behaviors during that time.  Not that I don't have to worry at all.

Of course, I also suffer from depression, but it's possible that that's caused or made worse by the fact that, growing up with increasingly complex avenues of media, and two brothers who for the first eleven years of my life slept in the same room, I never faced significant exposure to properly decompressed time.

I don't know what the solution to this is, except to say that there does need to be one -- this is a real problem kids face, and are going to continue to face, that could seriously affect their quality of life, and needs to be consciously dealt with on a societal level.  And that the solution is definitely not "Let's shut off the internet" or "Ban video games and texting" or any other attempt to artificially enfeeble childhood integration into the modern world.