“Fighting the Internet Invasion of Childhood” by Martin Kutnowski. The Wall Street Journal, 9/10/2014
The author, a professor at a small Canadian university, describes his 10-year-old daughter’s howls of protest when he found a way to program his home router to limit her Internet connection to one hour per day. (He does not say how. I would love to know.)
The violent protests of his daughter only confirmed her dependence on the Internet and the need for his discipline. He describes his attempts at dinner conversations that only elicited blank-eyed, monosyllabic replies as she waited to feed her online addiction as soon as his back was turned. She should be spending her time sitting under an apple tree reading The Bobbsey Twins.
He sees the same symptoms in his incoming students numbed by years of excessive electronic stimulation. Some don’t understand how to form a coherent and complete sentence, how to focus long enough to read just one chapter of a book, or how to talk and collaborate with one another. Of course he wants to rescue his own daughter from such a fate.
Now for my take on the subject: I suspect future Letters to the Editor will be quick to point out he is only attacking his daughter’s symptoms, not affecting the source of a deeper problem. And even in my Penn State days, professors were bemoaning the low quality of students they were getting. But their job was to turn us around, “mold us into men and women,” (see posting of 9/17/2012) and mostly they were very successful. We emerged from their undergraduate program far more thoughtful than when we began. My most influential courses were not in my chemistry major, but among my electives: Business Law, Art History, Introduction to Philosophy, and even Freshman English, where a pretty, young woman graduate student unknowingly changed my life by introducing me to Thoreau. I don’t even remember her name.
At Penn State, I often spent afternoons in the open shelves of the main library building, browsing through bound issues of Life magazine or discovering dusty books on unusual topics, eventually emerging, dazed and blinking in the bright sunlight. When traveling to major cities in my working career, I would search out their public libraries, stealing time from my employer who was paying my expenses. I was an addict, and addicts have no morals.
On one of those trips, I attended a lecture that foresaw the mass storage of data on DVDs. Twelve-inch laser disks that could hold an entire movie had just become commercial. The lecturer pointed out that a movie was 24 images a second, and each of those images could be a separate document. All that is needed is an indexing system and just one of those disks could store thousands and thousands of pages. Incredible!
Later, in retirement, the Internet became my window on the world. I no longer had to feed my obsession by wandering through long aisles of dark bookshelves. Just go to a search engine (Gopher then, Google now), and type in a term, any term, and the references would pour out almost instantly. Graphics became better and better as bandwidth and computer capacity steadily increased. I could wander at will from home, even in my jammies, at any time, day or night.
This very blog is the direct result of today’s easy access to vast quantities of data. Without the Internet, each posting would require at least a day of research in Philadelphia’s Free Library. Thanks, Ben, but the Internet is much easier, and any Canadian professor should be thankful his children have its advantages. How they use it is another question, but that is true for most things in life. Just wait until they begin driving.