Log in

Message for my digital goddaughter


My 13-year-old goddaughter still can’t understand how telephone busy signals used to work.
She can’t help it.
At 13, she’s a member of the Gen Alpha generation, kids born between 2010 and 2024, which is the first generation to NOT know what life was like before social media and artificial intelligence were everywhere.
I tried to explain that before call waiting was commonplace in the mid-1980s, a caller would get a busy signal if a phone line was being used.
When I was in high school, I told her, we only had one telephone line. My father, a Bell Telephone man, installed five heavy-duty phones in our house, but all of them were connected to a single landline.
When someone called us, the ringing brass bells created such a hullabaloo, it sounded like someone was breaking into the Fort Knox Bullion Depository.
But the bells didn’t ring often, because, between my mother and five sisters, somebody was always tying up the line.
When I needed a ride home after football practice, I placed a dime into the pay phone, turned the rotary dial with my finger and was then greeted by an annoyingly loud buzzer that suggested: Loser! Try again!
This silly story illustrates the stark contrast between the innocent childhood I experienced as a tail-end Baby Boomer and the all-digitized childhood she is experiencing as a Gen Alpha.
Modern childhood is fraught with digital landmines.
According to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children between 8 and 12 spend 4 to 6 hours a day using digital devices, such as smartphones, while teens spend up to 9 hours.
AACAP says unmonitored children are likely to be exposed and influenced by risk-taking behaviors, sexual content, substance use, negative stereotypes, misinformation and advertising aimed at motivating a child to buy or act.
It’s no wonder, according to AACAP, that children exposed to too much screen time suffer things like sleep problems, lower self-esteem, too little face-to-face social interaction with family and friends and less time outdoors enjoying physical activity.
Research psychologist Dr. Jean Twenge says that a surge in Gen Z mental health issues is the direct result of the rise of smartphones and social media, which began in earnest in 2012.
“Happiness started to decline, life satisfaction declined, expectations went down,” Dr. Twenge told the New York Post. “Depression went up, and this pessimism really took root among young people.”
She says the hyper-connectivity of social media proved to be an unmitigated experiment for Gen Z — and also an unmitigated disaster for nurturing our most anxious and unhappy generation yet.
Twenge and others argue that all parents need to unite and make sure their kids are not exposed to social media too early.
Parents also need better tools to monitor and regulate their kids’ social media usage and she says the government must play a bigger role, giving them more robust tools to monitor and restrict the content children are able to access.
The debate around regulating social media and, now, AI, is going to be robust, as it should be – especially since we already know that unfettered social media has damaged one generation.
I called my goddaughter to warn her about the perils of social media, but she never answers.
Apparently, talking on the phone is something only a “pre-millennial” dork would attempt to do.

Copyright 2024 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.