Technology – this generation’s Pied Piper?

Claire Harvey, Community Development Officer for Central Scotland Regional Equality Council argues technology is stifling our young people’s imagination.

Video killed the radio star and technology killed the Lost Boys. Games consoles, television, tablets and apps, download this and stream that. What happened to our Peter Pans soaring through the sky to Never Never Land, or our princesses trapped in dragon guarded towers? In other words, what happened to our children? Where did their imagination go? How do we get it back?

As technology advances and more of our lives are lived through it I have found that children and young people are spending more time on games and applications and less time playing and interacting face to face (as opposed to Face Time!).  I believe that one of the side effects of this is that children spend less time using their imagination and make believing. That is not to say that this is dead, they are still able to do this (I mean Santa brings them the tablets and laptops) but I fear it is at risk of becoming extinct.Imagination pic

When I was growing up I remember quite vividly playing with my friends building dens, playing princesses, hopscotch, tig or any number of games. I never owned a games console, it never really appealed to me but it didn’t matter because I could make My Little Pony fly and my dens were bigger than Cinderella’s castle! I don’t dispute that some games and apps might be educational, I know some are intended to be exactly that but I do believe that everything should be in moderation, children and young people should be encouraged to look past a screen and to the outdoors and beyond! I also believe they will learn more without this technology, we all managed before it came along after all.

Gadgets and gizmos cannot replace the magical adventures that we take with our imagination and I have found during my work with children and youngsters that with the right encouragement, they will really grow. When I first started the drama/youth group they really struggled to act out anything of their own, instead choosing to act out scenes from their favourite cartoon with one even asking how they were supposed to move like a tree! Slowly but surely this changed and before I knew it I had the next generation of actors and playwrights standing right in front of me. And the added bonus is that not only are they having fun but they are also learning how to work together, how to communicate, how to share. Show me an app that will teach them that better!

So I say turn off the consoles, the tablets and the phones and let the young be young.  Shut away the technology and make a den, get out into the wilds.  Let them lose themselves in a far off imaginative land before their childhood and youth is lost to them.

And so I leave you with this quote which sums up this article quite accurately:-

“Why can’t you fly now mother?”

“Because I am a grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the way.”

“Why do they forget the way?”

“Because they are no longer gay and innocent and heartless. It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly” – J. M. Barrie.


2 thoughts on “Technology – this generation’s Pied Piper?

  1. (I love your opening line, Claire – I’ve now had that song stuck in my head since I read your post on my phone a few hours ago!)

    You raise some excellent points from your own experience about observing a lack of imagination in young people today. Like you, I have golden memories of dens in the woods and never had a games console (but remember being extremely jealous of a friend who – dating myself here- had an Atari). But, I’d say my strongest ‘creative’ memories are of acting along to ‘Grease’ and – I grew up in the States – playing ‘Little House on the Prairie’ with my friends. I’m also fairly certain my parents would have said the following about my friends and me – sat in front of television, always talking on the phone, never going outside to play, in my day we played outside and used our imaginations…

    I’ve got two great quotes, ‘Techno angst is forever,’ (Jason Ohler, ‘Digital Community, Digital Citizen’) and, ‘Technology is anything invented after you were born,’ (Alan Kay) that I love – so much, in fact, that they’re pinned to my bulletin board over my desk. I would argue every generation bemoans the newest technology as stifling the creative juices of young folk and every generation proves the adults wrong. Aristotle or Socrates (I can’t remember which) bemoaned his students using paper because they were going to lose the ability to speak eloquently if they didn’t have to remember their arguments.

    Recently, an old friend of mine was ranting about her children coming home from school and immediately jumping on the computer to talk to their friends who’d they’d spent all day with in school. She wasn’t best pleased when I pointed out that we’d done the same thing – shared a locker, had most classes together, hung out after school, came home, and … immediately called each other.

    Kids today are doing all the same things we did, they’re just doing it in a different place – they’re talking and learning how to socialise and trying on new identities and being creative. We need to learn how to engage with them in that place just like we did in youth clubs and on the street. Another quote I love (but can’t find remember where I read it) is, ‘The internet is a place, not a space.’

    Technology offers incredible opportunities when adults see them and find creative ways to engage young people through them. I remember a teacher who brought in newfangled VCR tapes and used the ‘Little House’ craze as a springboard to bring our pioneer history to life and even now, *scary number I won’t admit to* years later, that unit is one of only a handful I remember from primary school.

    So, maybe it isn’t the kids that need to change how they engage with technology, maybe it’s the adults?

    -Dana Cohlmeyer
    PhD Researcher, University of Edinburgh

  2. I agree Dana, I don’t believe it’s technology which is stifling imagination, it might be worth questioning though the different attitudes parents have to their children playing. There are those that would prefer for their children to be kept busy while they have some “me” time and other parents that are more giving of their time and play games “with” their children.

    Some form of technology has almost always been used to manufacture games & toys even before draughts were invented in 4000BC, how people play with them continues to evolve also. Young children who don’t know the rules of draughts will still play with them in their own way seeing how high they can stack them.

    Any toy train purchased these days could be argued as stifling young people’s imagination – it wasn’t that long ago where children from poorer families played with lumps of wood and pretended it was a train. That toy train you just purchased will always remain a train forevermore, but that block of wood could be anything they wanted it to be, a boat, bicycle you name it.

    I agree, shut away the technology and make a den but remember to let them switch it back on every now and again to keep evolving their imagination. I can’t wait to see what the next generation will be inventing to play with next!

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