Increased internet dependence is troubling

The pandemic has exacerbated many existing issues in the world. Among them: our generation’s dependence on screens and stimulation from technology. While individuals in the tech industry have netted billions due to this dependence, increasingly younger audiences are becoming more exposed to the online world, causing lots of damage.

Many people spend almost all of their day on screens, from mandatory Zoom meetings to down time watching YouTube or TikTok. All of this is completely normal, especially in a time like this, but there is a prevalent sense of dependence growing in young adults. According to Qustodio, a parental control app that tracks tens of thousands of devices used by children across the world, kids in the United States spent an average of 97 minutes on YouTube a day in March and April of 2020, up from the 57 average daily minutes in February. Roblox, a popular game among children from ages 9 to 12, averaged 31.1 million users a day during the first nine months of the pandemic, according to The New York Times. And these increased numbers in screen time can be seen across all ages. 

It makes sense. After a year of being isolated and inside for the majority of each day, we’ve become attached to our devices more than usual. Many people see their daily screen time averages soar, or notice themselves endlessly scrolling through social media. The increased access and usage of the internet can be correlated to a need to dull the discomfort, a subconscious intention to drown out painful thoughts about the pandemic and all the struggle that comes with it. Our devices have become coping mechanisms. But this kind of addiction spans far past, and far from, the pandemic. COVID-19 has only amplified the growing dependence on technology our society has engrained in Gen Z and the generations to come. 

It is tempting to convince yourself that this dependence is only a product of the pandemic, but sadly it is not.”

It is tempting to convince yourself that this dependence is only a product of the pandemic, but sadly it is not. The age of the internet has brewed a comfortable relationship between children and screens. The hyper-connected, fast-paced world that was new to many adults is now the norm for kids. Unfortunately, many adults blame teenagers for their addiction to screens, but in reality it’s not our fault. We were spoonfed a constant diet of data and content; and we’re now just one fingerprint or face-recognition away from the endless world of entertainment.

How did this happen? Why are so many kids now dependent on music to focus on homework, and YouTube to fill the silence? Tech companies are surely to blame for most of this. It is now impossible to work, communicate or live without a smart device. Many school districts, including Shorewood, converted to a technology forward model, pressuring or incentivizing students to buy their own devices as soon as they enter high school. Tech companies also cashed in on overworked parents who didn’t have the time or energy to spend enough time with their child. For example, the tablet became synonymous with little children in restaurants playing games as their family eats, and a Google search starting with the word “tablet” auto-completes into “tablets for kids.”

So, really, it’s not our generation’s fault that we’re addicted to our phones. We were raised in a world becoming dependent on smart devices. And now, during a pandemic that has killed over half a million Americans, young adults are turning to technology to numb the pain, and to suppress the rather depressing thoughts of reality.

What can we do to thwart this growing and invasive dependence on technology? First, adults can shift their blame from teens to the tech industry. If we focus on how tech companies continue to profit off our addictions to screens, we as consumers can be more aware of what we may be buying into. We should also slow our approach to a fully internet-dependent society by retracing our steps a bit, and generally calming our readiness to accept smart devices and A.I to serve us at every point of life.

A prime example is in schools. Even before the pandemic and virtual learning, Shorewood School District was steadily increasing the interaction between students and electronic devices in the classroom –– internet services like Google Classroom and G-Mail were used by students almost everyday, and the pandemic exacerbated students and teachers’ reliance on technology. Google is also directly marketing to schools with these online services like Google Classroom, but also with devices like their Chromebook. With those kinds of programs and devices being the main platform where students work, it leads to even more contact with screens that adds on to the large amount of time already spent on screens in kids’ free time.

With those kinds of programs and devices being the main platform where students work, it leads to even more contact with screens that adds on to the large amount of time already spent on screens in kids’ free time.”

Also, though it may feel far-fetched, the government should raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, or more. Overworked parents are having to take two or three jobs to support their family, which leaves the screen as one of the only choices for child care. This early dependence we engrain in children and parents –– a sense that the tablet or the smartphone is the answer to a child’s needs –– is something tech companies are profiting off of. If we raise the minimum wage, parents can have more time to spend with their kids, and the parent can be the solution to a hyperactive child, instead of a tablet or the TV.

And, of course, we can all try to limit the time we spend on screens. But often when a person tries to limit their screen time, it feels like an uphill battle against constant push-notifications, email alerts, and never ending breaking news. So if it’s not the individual’s fault, it means that we should take a hard look at how much smart technology has been ingrained in our lifestyle.

We are at a point where we need to ask ourselves if the technology that is strapped to our sides all the time is really improving our lives, or if the stress, anxiety and constant stimulation they bring is hurting more than it is helping.