Perhaps one of the best marketing slogans of the past two decades is Apple’s “There’s an app for that.” The message is clear: If you have a problem, technology has a cure. Even if your problem is technology.
When did tech companies cross a line? I would argue when they started attempting to improve our relationships with our kids by inserting themselves into that sacred space. Richard Freed’s book Wired Child does an excellent job systematically picking apart all the prevailing technology myths. One of those myths is that technology will bring your family closer together.
Follow the Money
Wired Child’s first chapter highlights how technology actually serves to detract from the bond between parent and child, rather than bringing them closer together. One way he makes such a cogent argument is by creating a paper trail, often involving funding, to highlight how tech companies make money off of families who believe the myth that technology will bring their families closer together. At the same time, he weaves together the research that suggests the opposite is true: technology is likely to distance families and interrupt family time.
First, he points to the fact that most parents believe technology brings their families closer together. These are surveys of perceptions and often ones funded by technology companies. If they make any case, it’s that technology’s cooperative marketing efforts on this front have been effective.
Naturally, research suggests the opposite. One study shows that the more time children spend playing on computers or watching TV, the less attached they are to their parents. This is the simple theory of displacement: time kids (or parents) spend with tech has to come from somewhere. One of the major problems with technology is that it displaces other activities that are more important to child development.
Richard Freed goes further to highlight the marketing plans and strategies that are utilized to promote technology to parents motivated to do their best. For example, he highlights how “tech experts” who write about and promote technology in news articles on television programs are often linked (financially) to the major companies who benefit from their positive views. His research is extensive, as evidenced by this quote he pulled from a Yahoo! Strategy report: “desire by moms to create special moments with their families creates an unprecedented opportunity for brands”
However, unlike many books which exclusively focus on all the negatives of our current tech-obsessed culture; Dr. Freed offers solutions as well. Special moments are not created by brands and technology: they are created by simply spending time with your child. You can follow their lead in play, take them outside or read to them.
The myth of technology bringing us closer together is just one chapter addressed in Dr. Freed’s book. The book also highlights how the creators of video games work with psychologists to develop games complete with compulsion loops, making it exceptionally difficult for your child to turn it off. He disassembles the myth that technology is the answer to every educational issue. He appropriately contextualizes the marketing strategy that claimed parents are technologically ignorant and thus have no place setting limits around it. He helps you to understand the brain science that explains why teenagers are unlikely to be capable of moderating their own tech use.
Wired Child is by far the best book I have read on this topic. It is extremely well –researched. Perhaps its shining accomplishment is Dr. Freed’s ability to identify the enemy. Parents have been confused; arguing or battling one another (or sometimes their own kids), distracted from the real culprit. Media and tech companies target well-meaning parents, viciously so, pushing products into the emotional space between parent and child. Dr. Freed provides excellent evidence of that. He helps you remember the tried-and-true parenting strategies.
You may come away from this book mad, but you will also be motivated. Remember, there is no app for this. There is you, and your little kids who need you. Good luck.