Digital autism might sound like an edgy name for a local band. But in reality it is the latest catch phrase in the discussion of familial disconnect due to the proliferation of technology commonly used by families. With the increasing ability to communicate via phone, text, email, instant message and social networking post, many people, both children and adults, are losing the desire and ability to interact in person, in the real world in a healthy manner.
What is Digital Autism?
Digital autism was coined based upon the effects of autism- difficulty communicating, problems relating to the outside world and a general sense of now being present, but instead being somewhere else entirely. Digital autism however, is cause by the overuse of technology and social media applications and can thankfully be prevented and if necessary cured. Anyone using technology to communicate- and really who isn’t – can fall victim.
Most people have felt the social inadequacy that occurs when one member of your social group pulls out their phone during a social event like dinner or a concert. In no time, everyone feels so insecure that their lack of communication outside of this group marks them as social failure. They feel the need, the almost visceral need, to also pull out their phone as if it is a biological signal of strength and prowess. This almost instantaneous disconnect from a living social interaction into a virtual world of shallow virtual interactions demonstrates the widespread nature of this recently named behavioral pattern.
Digital Autism and The Family
Although this behavior may seem comical or rude for adults, the problem lies in the fact that children and teens are growing up with these interactions being the norm. Children’s attention spans are decreasing at an alarming rate as is their ability to hold legitimate conversations. As explained in a recent USA Today article, author Dan Rasmus explains, that children born after 1999, those he dubs “virtuals”, are the first generation to have had such widespread access to technology. Older siblings, parents and other role models have lived through a time where these advances weren’t available. This makes them able to recognize the addition the technology adds to their lives, and know how to function without it once in awhile.
Technology alone is not bad. But as adults we need to set boundaries for appropriate usage for technology. But in order to do that, we need to honestly, set boundaries for ourselves. While we see the teenage texts and social networking as frivolous and invasive, the same can be said for our supposedly important connectedness to jobs. The importance of down time, time away from technology and actually connecting one on one with people has been overlooked in favor of exciting new technological applications. Failure to set boundaries will soon lead to instances of digital autism.
Digital Autism’s Negative Effects
Digital autism becomes more than just a trendy buzzword as it begins to interfere with family relationship building, educational progress and general behavior.
For children digital autism sets a bad pattern that can hamper communication through the difficult adolescent years. It also prevents normal developmental relationships from properly forming between children and other family members.
For teens it is especially important that technology is allowed with limited and responsible use. From my own personal experience, being a teenager is a time where you are certain that no one in your family understands you and you seek to belong to a group of friends who feel more important than family. While this is natural, in healthy development, you continue your relationship with your family as you grow and work through adolescence and become an adult who appreciates these family ties. However, if both parents and teens are present but absent, then neither side these relationships wither away, often leaving these children more lost than together as they approach adulthood. Much like traditionally autistic children, these children find themselves unable to appropriately interact with the outside world.
Technology is a great way to connect more often and in ways previously unimaginable. Unfortunately this is often a trade-off of virtual communications instead on one on one interpersonal communications. Though the comparison between traditional autism and digital autism may see harsh, the effects of isolation and estrangement are the same. The only difference is that with a concerted effort, digital autism is completely preventable and treatable.
Archbishop Slams Facebook. ” Need a friend try a pub.”
Barker, Olivia “Tweeting, texting, renders avid users present yet absent.” http://www.usatoday.com/life/lifestyle/2009-08-02-virtual-unreality_N.htm. Accessed November 12, 2010.