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Generation Huh? The Impact of Hand-held Devices on Kids and Teens

By Jim Hague, Sept 22, 2010

Being a teenager from the 1980’s, I had a good life. After school, I would put away my books, change my clothes, grab a Coke and a cupcake, and then hang around watching MTV (when they were playing videos). Then the doorbell rang. I answer and see a neighbor friend of mine holding a bat and a baseball mitt.

I go into my garage, pick up my mitt and run out the door. As we played on our front yard it would not be long before other kids joined us. 

At 5pm we saw our parents drive into the garage, we knew it was dinnertime. Playtime is over until the next day. We spend our evenings doing homework and watching Yankee games. 

Fast-forward 2010….

I am walking my dog through an empty neighborhood. A see two little girls are sitting on the patio. They never notice my dog or me. Instead, they their heads hung low as their fingers danced on a hand-held device. Maybe a PSP? Maybe an iPod? When the mother abruptly came out ordering them inside, their heads sprung up and they responded with a ‘huh’?

In Napa Valley, Ca, I took a tour bus through the fresh smell and lush beauty of ‘Wine Country.” I can’t help but thank God for the refreshing mind-easing journey. I look to my immediate left and saw a mother looking out the window. Her son, however, had lowered his head as his fingers danced on a hand-held device. The mother tapped his shoulder, shaking him back to reality. He responded by saying, “huh?”

A few days later, I am at an Inland Empire, Ca frozen yogurt place. I took a small Styrofoam cup, poured a chocolate yogurt from the dispenser, and then added little chocolate chips and fudge. While doing this I noticed the teenage girl at the counter. She didn’t pay attention to what I was doing, nor did she care.  I could have done jumping jacks in front of her, but she was too busy text messaging her friends.  I asked, “How is business?” She looked at me as if I intruded her space. She responded with a ‘huh?’

And finally I am driving on a freeway during rush traffic in Los Angeles. I look to my left. I could barely see the young lady’s head, but could clearly see her hands texting on top of the steering wheel. Seconds later, that Nissan drove right into the back of a large Ford Pickup truck. The Nissan was totaled. The Ford was unscathed. I wondered if she said, ‘huh?’

So what does this tell you?

Hand-held devices are turning us into human zombies. We are witnessing a generation oblivious to surroundings.   This effect is not so prevalent with my fellow Generation X (mid 30’s to 40’s) and a little more with Generation Y (late 20’s to mid-30’s). But for Generation Z (teens to mid-20’s) the thought of going a minute without texting, gaming, or surfing is tantamount to a chain smoker without a cigarette.  There just may be a new 12-step program for those addicted to the Internet or hand-held devices.

While these hand-held devices provide the convenience of accessibility any time and anywhere, it should never replace the all-important interaction with fellow human beings or nature. Instead families, friends, nature and animals are reduced to mere digits and pixels. 

No hand-held can ever replace the warmth of a nice smile, the appreciation of someone waving hello, or a consumer saying ‘thank you’. No hand-held will ever replace blossoming flowers, the clear blue sky, or the smell of fresh grass on a baseball field.  For safety, the laws regarding texting and driving are not tough enough.

Are hand-held devices here to stay? Oh yes. As long as Apple and Verizon makes its billions, it’s here to stay.

But it does not have to take over our lives.

I have a blackberry, but …

  • I don’t text or email while I drive.
  • I only text when necessary and if I am in the company of someone, I say a polite ‘excuse me’ before I proceed to text.
  • When I am not working I don’t answer emails
  • When riding on a bus, I don’t play hand-held games. I rather read a book
  • After work I walk my dog on the parameters outside a golf course, enjoying the ducks that swim on its pond. My hand-held is tucked in my pockets in case of phone calls.

Now, twenty some years later, I play in a men’s softball league. I still use the same mitt as I did as a teenager. My blackberry, tucked away till after the game.

Jim Hague is an award winning webmaster

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