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Living in a Visual Society (2)

Living in a Visual Society (II)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI

This past summer, my wife and I walked through a combination garden and sculpture park. The garden was amazing, displaying a rich variety of flowers of different colours and sizes of blooms. Not only were the large beds of roses beautiful, especially, I thought, the light orange ones, the aroma of the roses reached us at some distance. I had anticipated the sculptures to be the work of various artists but they were by the same man. Although my wife and I prefer our art in the form of paintings, let us simply say we found the art interesting.

Although the crowds were not thick, there were plenty of people. There were street performers as well. Most of the park-goers were younger, in their early 30s and 20s. They were in pairs or small groups. They appeared to be with close friends.

Were they, really, with their friends? I noticed more than half of this generation were on their phones and tablets. They did not pay much attention to the gardens or the sculptures, nor were they looking at each other, engaged in face-to-face conversation. Their attention was fixed on a screen, not on their surroundings or the people with them. Not only is society very visual, much of what our minds absorb is not even from the reality surrounding us but from screens!

This change in culture, caused by the emergence of social media and the technology supporting it, has caused some concern even among the world’s educators. What effects does this revolution have on children and learning? Let us look at two concerns which are currently being researched, one is physical and the other centres on what educators call “emotional intelligence.”

I have read articles regarding several physical concerns about the use of various screens. I will pass over the concern that one researcher found that toilet seats have fewer germs than do touch screens and focus on posture.

As the young people at the park I observed looked at their screens, I noticed their poor posture. They were not standing with shoulders back and heads erect. They rounded their shoulders forward as they looked at their screens and typed with their thumbs. They tilted their heads forward as well. This posture puts stress on the upper spine. Tilting the head forward can put about 60 pounds of force on the spine. Such force can lead to early wear, degeneration and possibly surgeries. This information is from the Medical Daily website in an article which first appeared 18 November, 2014, and was written by Chris Weller.

Weller points out how much of our time can be spent in this posture. One estimate is that people use screens roughly two to four hours each day. That would be 700 to 1,400 hours per year. He then points out that high school students are even worse, perhaps looking at screens as much as 5,000 hours before they graduate. A doctor interviewed by Weller states that we cannot abolish using these devices, but we must be more aware of our posture as we do so. I have heard the advice that after looking at a screen for twenty minutes, one should spend twenty seconds looking at something at least twenty feet away to give eyes a rest; referred to as the 20/20/20 rule. Perhaps we should add that one stand up straight as well while taking this eye break.

Now let us look at screen use on emotional intelligence, which is one’s ability to express, recognize and appropriately respond to, emotions, both one’s own and others. This information comes from Katherine DeWeese’s May 2014 master’s thesis titled, “Screen Time, How Much is Too Much? The Social and Emotional Costs of Technology on the Adolescent Brain.” (Her paper can be found at the Educational Research Information Center’s website. Enter ED546474 in the search box.)

DeWeese read many research papers for her thesis. Her reading caused her to wonder, “Can students define the skills necessary to appraise and express emotion when much of their day is focused on a screen?” DeWeese also cites the work of a psychologist who said, “one’s actions and reactions are based on those learned and observed in others.” DeWeese notes, “This theory is important when discussing the changes in adolescent brains when not actively observing peer groups or others but rather focusing on inanimate objects and screens.” She points out that neural pathways needed for emotional intelligence might not develop strongly enough when several hours of each day are spent observing screens, not reading and reacting to the body language and facial expressions of those actually present physically with us.

Since much of adolescent “conversation” takes place on social media, the concern is that children will not develop the skills needed to notice subtle clues given by others in facial expressions or gestures. Also they might not be able to allow others in the group to take turns in face-to-face conversations, wait for others to finish speaking before talking or be able to listen attentively for long periods of time.

For us, as members of the body of Christ, our children need to learn to live with one another. We need to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We need to learn to listen, really listen, to each other and react in a way to be of spiritual help and support to those in need. Merely texting each other might not be the best way to help our friends. We need face-to-face talks, when possible, with those we care about. It would be beneficial to stand up straight while doing this as well, especially before we bow our heads together in prayer with fellow members of the church to seek God’s guidance and help.

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