Friday, May 18, 2012

Drawing the Line on Media Access for your Child with Asperger's Syndrome - Part 3: The Negatives of Media

In my last couple of posts, (1,2) I've discussed the way in which our special needs children use the media to accelerate their learning. I've talked about how critical the media is for visual learners and how these kids learn in a completely different manner to their peers.

Now however, we need to look at the negative aspects of this media obsession. I've already discussed the possibility of learned violent behaviours, irresponsibility (jackass) and bad language.  In this post, I want to look at some of the less obvious types of negatives.

Inattention and Immediacy
In the last decade have become an immediate society.  We expect our movies to start with action sequence immediately and without introduction. If the film is a slower one then often the action is the film's credit sequence itself; Panic Room for example.  I've noticed that many kids and adults today simply don't have the patience to watch an older film and it's one of the main reasons that Hollywood thinks that it can get away with poor quality fast-paced remakes instead of original ideas.

In Panic Room, most of the action happens in the credits.

This immediacy isn't just in our films, it's everywhere. Email is too slow nowadays and instant messaging (chatting) is preferred. Even worse, slow typists or people who can't be bothered thinking of words can simply click "like" or use abbreviations such as LOL as standard responses.

Even our thirst for knowledge is affected by immediacy and anyone who has a question doesn't bother to think it through. Not when the answer can be found on our phones in seconds. In fact, Google's Gmail is taking the interesting step of integrating a research pane into their mail system for greater immediacy.

Unfortunately the majority of life's little problems don't have immediate solutions and the youth of today simply lack the patience and determination to find solutions. I'm not just talking about math problems here, I'm talking about relationship issues - or even just taking some time out to "visit grandma" without having to take a nintendo DS along for distraction.

Then there's the problem of overload. Our brains are constantly working. It used to be the case that people could leave their workplace and have some "downtime" on public transport but now our ever-present phones, pads and computers provide a constant connection to the office, the internet, games, music, ebooks and other forms of mental stimulation.

Even the smaller moments where our brains could grab a quick break, such as when we were in queues, are gone. Go to McDonalds or the post office and watch the queues. Everyone is playing with their mobiles. Sadly the same is true in restaurants, where people are surrounded by families but play with their mobiles instead.

Our brains need rest - as do our fingers. Overload isn't just about the huge masses of information available to us. It's also about the lack of breaks.

It's little wonder that we are seeing more mental illnesses and more people "snapping" than ever before. We're all under a huge amount of stress and we're unable to take breaks.

Online Behaviour
Online danger is not just about predators, bullies and stalkers. Arguably, most of our kids online behaviour can be cause for concern. As a father whose eight-year old booked a complete overseas wedding package for himself using only made-up credit card numbers, I can attest to the danger of the internet in the wrong hands.

An Internet nanny might stop pornographic materials but it won't necessarily stop your child from installing malware or providing tracable details in an online form - particularly if there's the possibility of winning a toy in the process. It also won't stop your older children from finding and using your credit cards online.

Don't forget that although you might use a secure firewall at home or put net nanny on your home PC, your child will increasingly be using other devices to connect to the internet. They may not have a data connection on their phone or ipad (or Nintendo DS) but if they're close to McDonalds or another place with free wi-fi, then the internet is only a few clicks away.

Health Issues
Any activity which puts you into an immobile position for long periods of time or which puts muscles through significant repetitive motion is unhealthy.

Television, computers and handheld devices all fall into this category. One of the major issues with Asperger's syndrome is "low muscle tone" a condition in which the layering of musculature on the body doesn't provide effective support. This causes a person to lean or to slouch. Slouching puts strain on the back and can cause long term posture issues and back pain.

Then there's the repetitive motion of keyboarding, mousing, gaming or touch-screening. All of these can cause overuse injuries and eventually RSI. Even worse, slouching can exacerbate these injuries.

There's plenty more to consider, there's eyestrain, there's vitamin D deficiency which comes from lack of sunlight and there's the nutrition problems which come from long-term computer addiction. In short, there are a lot of health risks to consider.

Media-related Tantrums
I'm not a big believer in the idea that the consumption of violent media necessarily makes a person violent but ask me if computer games create violence and I'll agree whole-heartedly.

It's not the violent games either, in fact, it's more often the cute innocent ones that are to blame.  It's the froggers (showing my age) and the Mario's of the world who are to blame.

It's amazing how often I've seen kids - not just my own - throwing controllers, shouting at the TV and lashing out at their friends over a simple game of Lego Star Wars - in fact, I'm sure I've been there a few times myself.

Nobody likes to lose but sometimes I wonder if the makers of modern games take a perverse pleasure in making even the "easy" levels of their game impossible to complete. (and don't even get me started on the issues of trying to return a game to the store because it's "too hard" for the kids).

Poor game performance can ruin the mood for the rest of the day and make it impossible to concentrate. You don't know the outcome of a game level until you play it and even the best games can quickly turn sour. For this reason, gaming before school or before homework is a huge "no no". Just don't allow it.

Gaming also impacts sleep and I know that if I'm "helping" the boys with their lego Star Wars/Batman/Harry Potter/indy..etc games, I dream of bricks. Even worse, it begins to spill over into real life. I remember playing Doom and changing jobs at a similar time. I started work in a fabrication plant and there were barrels everywhere. I clearly remember thinking (seriously), If I could blow those barrels up there could be a door or prize behind it. Computer game realism and rendering has come a long way since then and I suspect that "spilling over into reality" is becoming even more of a problem.

Games are actually very helpful - up to a point - and then they quickly become detrimental.

Social Repression
My last point concerns social repression - and this is increasingly becoming an issue with adults too. How often do you recall talking to someone who just won't stop fiddling with their phone?  How many people use phones, books, pads and media players on public transport instead of talking to their fellow travelers?

It's a big issue because people with Asperger's syndrome tend to be more prone to this kind of behaviour and yet, they're the ones who need to social interaction practice the most.

At the very least, when you have visitors over, your kids should be talking to them, not hiding away in their rooms playing games or reading books.

Next Time
In my next post, I'll cover drawing the line, some rules and methods for limiting media access and ways to make those non-media interactions with kids more enjoyable.


Adelaide Dupont said...

Hello Gavin.

I've noticed that my comments to blog posts are probably less thoughtful than they might have been earlier in the decade (or even last decade: this is all 21st century).

The instant messenging part: there are games like Club Penguin where you select about eight or 10 responses. In the last year I encountered a graphical game called Fantage.

Your son and the made-up credit card numbers and the overseas wedding orders!

It was also interesting to read about Doom and its effects on your job performance.

It does seem that you aren't encouraged to follow through and thoughts may become more scattered/tangential.

Very true, too, about overload being the lack of breaks.

People lash out over the scrolling of Google Earth. The most frequent lash-out is Flash - when it crashes out a multimedia component to which the browser isn't suited.

Social repression? Seems to be the opposite to online disinhibition.

Looking forward to seeing "How to make non-media interaction enjoyable", because it does follow through on "social repression".

And Nanny is ineffective against social engineering?

Anonymous said...

"How many people use phones, books, pads and media players on public transport instead of talking to their fellow travelers?"

Sometimes, reading a book on public transport is actually *more* respectful of one's fellow travelers than talking to them or otherwise approaching them.

Here's an example of why:

"...These dynamics play out that way and are really quite unfortunate. The other night, I was returning home via subway at 2am after getting in from a trip. Despite few passengers and lots of room on the benches in the car, this largeish man came and plopped down right in between myself and another woman, bumping me in the process. He sort of squished me a bit against the rail and then shortly after, proceeded to start falling asleep on me.

"Now, granted, this is common enough in the NYC subway, but as soon as he chose that seating location, my suspicion went up. There was plenty of room elsewhere to fit his frame that wouldn't have involved plopping down on me. I changed seats soon after the falling asleep started taking place, but the whole thing still raised my guard..."

Anonymous said...

Here's another example of why:

"If I am on the bus reading a book (and I am *always* reading a book. I take the bus *because* I can read on it, which buys me an extra hour of study time every class day over other transit methods), then it would be courteous of a stranger not to assume that his or her desire to chat with me, or flirt with me, or pick me up supercedes my desire to read my book.

"I give pretty unambiguous clues that I am intent upon my book, rather than open to chatting: I keep my eyes on it except to look up and check the route's progress, or to shift my possessions or move my legs for the convenience of other passengers; I have a pen and Post-Its handy, and I'm using them.

"Still, at least once a week someone decides that I am required to talk with them, even though I am clearly trying to immerse myself in my work. It is usually a man about my age, and usually a man who wants to flirt. And he thinks that I have an obligation to flirt back, or at least to sit passively and let him flirt with me. I'll respond to a brief greeting or compliment as quickly and politely as I can, but when the stranger tries to extend it into a conversation, most of the time I try to exit gracefully.

"The book should make that easier, but it doesn't always.

"When I politely remark that I am busy studying (a fact that any sensible person could see, if they were bothering to), the strange man very rarely takes this gentle rebuff with good grace. A typical sample of the rebuff and the response:

"Elsa: [smiling, speaking in a light tone] Oh, I'm afraid I can't really talk. I'm studying for an exam. [gestures at book]
Stranger: Well, if you're going to be *that* way about it! I was just trying to be friendly!

"Sometimes the remark is stronger still. I have been called a bitch on the bus more often than anywhere else, simply for my polite and smiling rebuffs of insistent chattering.

"This should illustrate a large portion of women's resistance to chitchat with strangers. I don't rebuff a stranger's chatter because I think he's a rapist (though I, too, have been threatened and creeped out and followed home by strangers, and of course the possibility does lurk in my mind sometimes), but because I do not want to get called a bitch as part of my morning routine. Keeping the interaction to a minimum reduces the chances of some seemingly friendly stranger suddenly turning aggressive.

"I can see how one might extend this dynamic into the question 'Is he a rapist?' a quote from the linked article [emphasis is in the original]:
"'So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you're sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she's tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. *And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.*'"

Anonymous said...

Here's one more example of when it's more respectful to read a book on public transport instead of talking to one's fellow travelers:’s-rapist-or-a-guy’s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

"Gentlemen. Thank you for reading...

"...Pay attention to the environment. Look around. Are you in a dark alley? Then probably you ought not approach a woman and try to strike up a conversation. The same applies if you are alone with a woman in most public places. If the public place is a closed area (a subway car, an elevator, a bus), even a crowded one, you may not realize that the woman's ability to flee in case of threat is limited. Ask yourself, 'If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?' If the answer is no, then it isn't appropriate to approach her..."

"...You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she's already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y'know, *don't disturb her.* Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you...Don't assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she's signaling, and back off.

"If you speak, and she responds in a monosyllabic way without looking at you, she's saying, 'I don't want to be rude, but please leave me alone.' You don't know why. It could be 'Please leave me alone because I am trying to memorize _Beowulf._' It could be 'Please leave me alone because you are a scary, scary man with breath like a water buffalo.' It could be 'Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able to recognize me and blow my cover.'

"On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off..."

Anonymous said...

Hi gavin, i have been reading and posting on your blog for a while now and i notice in recent times it seems to have been hijacked by the 'annonymous' new yorker with her own personal issues. I wonder what can be done about this? I know i enjoy your blog b/c you are in sydney and i can relate to your thoughts on raising a family here... Im not sure im keen on broadening my knowledge of the cultural implications of a foreign transport system!!!

Anonymous said...

Dismissing knowledge about many women's concerns about personal safety as "knowledge of the cultural implications of a foreign transport system!!!" is very rude.

No matter if you raise your children in Sydney or somewhere else, you will be raising them to appear a threat to the rest of us as long as you keep acting on the attitude of yours you displayed here.

Anonymous said...

I recommend comment moderation.
Great post series.

Gavin Bollard said...

LWA has fairly strong comment moderation. Comments which are entirely off-topic (eg: selling stuff) don't make it through.

Comments which build on other comments or on the articles (even if they do it in a negative way) are permitted.

Anonymous said...

In reponse to "How many people use phones, books, pads and media players on public transport instead of talking to their fellow travelers?"

I'll quote

"...that sums up my feelings on this perfectly:

"1. People’s Protective Bubbles Are Okay

"I hear people complain that, for instance, in this city, people don’t say hi on the street or make eye contact on the subway. But that’s ridiculous! It’s perfectly reasonable for people not to want to see your dance performance when they are coming home from work. People are on the subway because they’re getting from one place to another, and for all you know, they’re coming from a job that involves interacting with lots and lots of people, and going to a home where there’s a family where they’re going to interact with lots more people. And the subway’s the one place where they can have some quiet time, get some reading done, not have to smile, not have to make eye contact. That’s what a city is. A city is a place where you can be alone in public, and where you have that right. It’s necessary to screen people out. It would be overwhelming if you had to perceive every single person on a crowded subway car in the fullness of their humanity. It would be completely paralyzing. You couldn’t function. So don’t try to fix this. There is no problem.

"(from this excerpt [ ] )"

posted by heatherann at 12:39 PM on June 9

When person A complains about stranger B not wanting to converse with him or her on public transport, A isn't caring about what B thinks. A isn't caring that for all A knows, B may just want some down-time between a lot of social interaction at the origin of B's trip and a lot of social interaction at the destination of B's trip.

Given that A isn't caring what B thinks, why should B have to care what A thinks enough to put down his or her book or phone and entertain A instead?