Have you ever noticed how utterly dependent children are on technology, particularly mobile devices? I couldn’t help but be amazed last week when I sat in one of the quirkiest restaurants in Melbourne, Easey’s, only for a large group kids to be totally absorbed by their phones. If you don’t know Easey’s, it’s a burger joint in Collingwood, but with a unique twist that no other restaurant in Melbourne can rival: Customers sit atop of the building on a train carriage, overlooking the surrounding suburbs. I thought it was downright cool, yet I honestly didn’t witness any of the children marvelling in the view, let alone actually noticing it whatsoever. Rather, they sat fixed on their phones, posting and self-promoting on their social media accounts. Prior to watching these kids engrossed in their phones, I was worried about my mobile usage habits. Now I realise that the issue is sweeping the next generation in a more harmful way than my own. That’s the reason people born in and following 1995 are known as the iGen.
Socially, the group of kids didn’t necessarily have a problem – they all still spoke and acted as children do. The only difference was that they didn’t raise their eyes from their phones in the process. There may be a lack of actual connectedness with peers in future generations because of their inability to break concentration from mobile devices. Also, their perception of what is deemed ‘normal conversation’ will also prove to be contrasting in comparison to older generations. While this may be seen as a worry, it’s well known that change is inevitable in each generation. But with it, this generational change appears to be bringing far more damaging effects than ever seen before. Not just socially, but also mentally and physically.
With mental health coming under the microscope as professionals seek answers for the development of illnesses, there’s no question that mobile devices aren’t doing any favours for mental health. In The Sydney Morning Herald’s article “I worry about the impact of technology on children,” author Melinda Gates highlighted the correlation between social media use and overall happiness: “Eighth graders who use social media more than 10 hours a week are 56 per cent more likely to say they’re unhappy than peers who use it less.” Even more concerning is the potential result of the unhappiness. In the last 10 years in Australia, there’s been a rise in suicide rates in the 15-24 age bracket. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the number of deaths by suicide in young Australians is the highest it has been in 10 years. In 2015, 391 Australians aged 15-24 died by suicide compared with 290 young Australians in 2005. That’s a damning correlation.
As a child, were you ever told to go play outside rather than sit inside in front of a screen? I could ask anyone my age and the answer would be yes. But this was even before I had a mobile phone. I can’t begin to imagine the struggle for parents to motivate their kids to experience the outdoors if they do have any type of mobile device, on top of video games and computers. While there’s been a rise of more than two percent in suicides in 15-24 year olds over 10 years, a similar but smaller age group, 15-17 years old, declined in physical activity participation. The ABS reported that in 2011-12, the age group’s sport and physical recreation participation stood at 78%. In 2013-14, that figure significantly declined by four percent to 74%. Ironically, the 15-17 age group recorded for the survey are the exact age where the iGen modifications are beginning to take shape. It’s clear that mobile devices have to be considered as a contributing factor to the decrease in sport and physical recreation participation.
It’s inappropriate to solely place blame on parents for their children’s absorption in mobile devices. Technology has developed so rapidly that it has been hard for anyone to forecast the future. Only 20 years ago, mobile phones were just coming into the mainstream, and certainly no child owned one. Children were spending most of their time outdoors to fend off boredom. But with technology, kids are almost unable to be bored if they have a mobile device on hand. It’s become too easy for parents to just give their kids a tablet to keep them from being restless. In this process, restlessness is the exact result, as the youth of today are spending most of their time sedentary.
Assuming the parents of the iGen are around 40 years old, when they were growing up the cell phone was just beginning to boom, albeit remaining firmly in its infancy. Since Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, smart phones have become a necessity for pretty much everyone. Parents want their kids equipped with a mobile to enable constant and convenient communication. As soon as this notion became the status quo, the rise of the mobile device was complete. As of 2015, there was 20.5 million mobile phones in use in Australia, meaning nearly 90% of the population uses a mobile phone. They have taken over the world, and the iGen’s lives are all but dictated by smart phones now.
So, who is to blame? Some may heap responsibility on brands like Apple who have taken full advantage of iGen and an unassuming society. However, they’re a business. Every business would be envious of their wealthy position. It’s the governments of developed countries that needed to get on the front foot to intervene with rich technology companies and at least stem the flow that was initially created. Savvy governments could have foreseen the potential impacts that modern technology would trigger years ago, and there’s no excuse for their inability to act on technology companies. An Act of Parliament as simple as limiting data and internet usage on mobiles may have been able to place restrictions on the impacts that modern technology is making.
With the government’s failure to act upon technology companies, they have been slowly but steadily crippling the iGen. Today, it looks increasingly probable that the iGen may be the most sedentary and depressed group to exist. They will be labelled lazy and useless, but it’s the work of Apple, Samsung and other technology brands that have been gradually creating products to effectively brainwash users into an idling state.