When evaluating the interview candidates for Reflection 5, I decided my father was the best choice for some insight on technology. He has always been very up to date on the latest gizmos and he’s a computer geek. (Just to illustrate: in college, he majored in Computers . . . 30 years ago before PCs were even widespread!)

I asked him how he thought technology has changed people over the years. Here was his answer (slightly paraphrased):

Everyone is connected today. We are connected through email, mobile devices and computers. People have zero attention spans because they are always running to check something. Everyone is used to jumping from A to B to C, instead of sitting still and focusing. There is no quiet time, we’re always looking at something or responding to something rather than thinking or reflecting. For example, this morning your sister was eating breakfast and watching one of her shows on the computer. She could have been talking to me (i.e. my dad) or reading a book or just thinking. Instead, she HAS to be connected to something. She doesn’t know how to just sit still and be comfortable with her own thoughts. She has to be entertained at all times. Maybe that’s it. She doesn’t know how to entertain herself. With so many flashing, buzzing, talking machines, she only knows how to keep busy if something else is doing the busying.


The monologue goes on and on, but I cut it short for brevity’s sake.  As I thought back on what my father said, I saw additional examples that supported his view in my own family.  To make things easier, let me outline our family of six: There’s Mom and Dad, me (20 years old), Brother #1 (18 years old), Brother #2 (15 years old) and Sister (12 years old). When Brother #1 and I were young (when the other two siblings were too young to be part of the story/not born), my parents were still idealistic. They believed that with the right upbringing, their children grow up to be leaders of society. Part of the idealism was the banning of the television on school days. If Brother #1 and I were bored, our parents would take us to the library or let play an educational computer game (this was before DVDs and movies were available on the computer). While most of my friends would race home to catch their favorite TV show, I came home, did my homework, had some free time for reading and computer, and then went to sleep. Although I fought, pleaded, argued, demanded, and begged to be allowed to watch TV, it was a very strict rule in the house that was always firmly enforced. It made me completely miserable (imagine NEVER being able to participate in the conversation when friends are discussing last night’s episode) but it also de facto incorporated nightly reading and a consistent homework routine into my schedule, as well as the schedule of Brother #1.

As Brother #3 and Sister got older, I think my parents gave up a little on their idealistic dreams for their children and the rules in the house became more lenient. Because technology had changed so much, not only did my parents have to control the TV rules, but there was also the computer to worry about. The computer was no longer a machine for CDs and Microsoft Word. It became an entire new media system. As my parents got worn down from the arguing, policing, and rule-enforcing, they started slowly easing up on the television/non-homework-related-computer ban. Eventually my two younger siblings were watching TV in some form or another every night. Unlike Brother #1 and I, Brother #2 and Sister would leave homework, studying, and reports for the last minute. Instead of talking about what they read or learned in school at the table, they instead would bring up a risqué story from something they saw on their favorite mindless TV show.

My family, relatives, and friends now unofficially consider Brother #1 and myself to be the studious ones, while Brother #2 and Sister are described as lazy, slacking, or “not students.” This is no reflection of their raw intelligence. Brother #3 scores exceedingly high on his standardized tests and Sister is an amazing writer. But when it comes to homework, chores, or even being respectful, they are both sorely lacking compared to Brother #1 and I. (This is in no way my biased opinion. It can be seen, plain as day, by any bystander.)

I won’t attribute all of the differences between the first and second half of children in my family solely to TV. Nature may have just as much a role as nurture does. And nurture may not only compose of how free time was spent on weeknights. Regardless, I see a direct correlation between the amount of TV watched and behavior.