The Internet influences a huge number of aspects of our day to day lives. We rely on it for work, play, education, information, socialising, shopping…you name it, the internet is there. Yet there was a time, not so long ago, where we did not have the internet. Which generation really has things better?
I am 33 years old, one of the first 672,968 people to form the ‘80s Child generation. Growing up in the ‘80s was awesome. Everything was really spangly. We had the Muppets (the REAL ones, not the cheap ‘90s revamp). We had uber-cool magazines like Smash Hits and Look-In, and enthralling book (ones made of paper) where you got to Choose Your Own Adventure. We had Jem dolls and Thunder Cats. We had Wham before George Michael started getting arrested on a weekly basis. Leg warmers were sexy and all the cool kids looked like they’d just stepped out of the trailer for Footloose (no, not the remake).
At this time I lived on the edge of here:
This of course meant lots of time outside, running, jumping, climbing trees. I was pretty healthy and happy as I recall, and blissfully unaware of how lucky I was.
I also had one of these, which I adored:
I loved this little beige and brown box so much I received this one for my birthday. This year.
My computer was one of the most up to date pieces of technology available to the blue collar family, and that was sometimes a financial push. Games took an age to load, and made a noise like this while loading (the special effects weren’t much better, they sounded like this). Everyone fought to get the biggest possible joystick (the ‘controller’, if you will) for the games where you didn’t just have to smash the arrow keys as fast as you could in order to win.
Friends would come round and we would play (usually one player at a time because not many people had two joysticks, that was a bit posh) for about an hour, then we would go outside to play or meet our friends on the common. We might even have to phone them first. On a telephone with a big dial in the middle, that was plugged into the wall and clicked in your ear for every notch of the dial.
That’s where computers and computer technology sat for an ‘80s kid. There was no internet. The computer was a toy like any other, an especially clever one, but just a toy nonetheless. It was rare to spend a significant amount of time on it, and I did not mourn my Commodore when we were apart. I was too busy being outside, playing, being active, and interacting with friends in the physical world.
We could not Check-In on Facebook to show our friends we were at the rec, we had to knock for them. There was no Twitter through which to tell them that we were going to buy Bazooka Joes from the Happy Shopper, we had to scream it across the street. We couldn’t even humiliate our friends by posting videos of them on YouTube, we had to wait until our parents drove the 10 miles into town to get our film developed, or post it to BonusPrint and wait 2 weeks for it to come back, then physically go round showing the photos to people. We had no Skype, FourSquare, Instagram, Pinterest…no Google.
We had no Google.
Pros & Cons Of Growing Up Without The Internet
- Higher levels of physical activity – Associated with lower levels of childhood obesity and better general health. Children sit more and move less than they did 20 years ago. Fact. It’s not all the internet’s fault, but it pretty much is. According to ChildWise UK children spend an average of 1 hour 50 minutes online per day. That’s 1 hour 50 minutes of sedentary time, not flexing their muscles, improving their lung capacity, not growing bigger and stronger. It may not sound like that long but if you take into account school, dinner, bathing and bedtime it’s quite a large proportion of an under 18’s free time.
- Stronger social ties based in the physical world (Granovetter, 1973) – In the next section we run through research that indicates that online social connections are more widespread and higher in numbers, but these create a weaker bond than those formed or regularly maintained in the ‘real world’.
- Safety first – Less access to unsavoury characters that should not be allowed near children. Of course there were boogie men and lurkers back in the 1980s, but the anonymity afforded by the internet has in many instances made children more accessible to those who seek them.
- Less access to educational material – Living in a small village meant the only way to access information aside from the school library was via friends’ notes, parents, and the local library which was over 5 miles away.
- Smaller social field – Some children who find it hard to socialise at school or suffer bullying can find friendship and socialisation through chat rooms, forums, and gaming often leading to increased confidence and ‘real life’ relationships. Before the advent of the internet socially awkward children did not have this alternative, this escapism, in which to develop their confidence and sense of self.
- Greater likelihood of losing contact with existing contacts – as time goes by we have a tendency to lose touch, albeit due to house moves, lost address books, or simply too much time passing. The internet allows us so many new paths with which to maintain and rediscover our connections.
It might be my rose tinted specs and hazy memory causing unfair bias, but I don’t think the world our children occupy today works like mine did, for better or for worse. Obviously I cannot speak from personal experience about growing up with the internet, but that’s what the comments section is for. Feel free correct me, give you opinion, or simply add more facts to the mix.
From my own experiences, this is what I see:
Pros & Cons Of Growing Up With The Internet
- Access to information and education – the shift in accessibility to educational and informational materials since the internet became widely available is unprecedented. I could write every day for a year and not make a dent in the vast array of subject areas where the internet has fundamentally changed people’s lives by enabling them in ways never possible before.
- Prensky (2001) argues that growing up a “Digital Native” means children’s brains are wired differently, causing them to be more creative, social, expressive and better able to multi-task (along with many more benefits). This effectively makes them better at creative tasks and problem solving. However it comes at a cost, often making children impatient, ego-centric and with a self of entitlement (I’m sure we’ve all met a child like that).
- Networking & sociability – without question children have access to more peers and potential social connections than ever before. However, these relationships are predominantly weaker social ties (Constant, Sproull, & Kiesler, 1996), exhibiting less communication and affection that those formed in the physical world.
- There are instances where this powerful medium provides a hugely supportive environment for users in their time of need. This is well demonstrated in the case of Pat Rhoads, who found a wealth of support after the tragic death of his wife.
- Increase in RSI injuries – the more time children (and the rest of us, but usually to a lesser degree, not having experienced it from such a young age) spend on the internet the greater the likelihood of RSIs such as carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist injuries. As described above, children in more modern times have increasingly sedentary lifestyles – more sitting, less moving. Increased and excessive internet usage is, unsurprisingly, linked to an increased in childhood obesity (and that of adults).
- Suggested ever-increasing link between gaming and negative learned behaviours, such as social maladaptation, increased aggression and propensity for violence. Yes, we had violent games in the 1980s. Personally I’m not convinced that the chances of a child playing Ubisoft ‘Prince of Persia’ or Atari’s ‘Battlezone’ is likely to lead to increased levels of hostility. The graphics and sound effects were so far removed from reality, and far less hours per week were spent on such activities. Interestingly, Kotaku quote a sadly unattributed study of the link between arcade games and violence carried out in 1984 as concluding even then, that “The data indicates that video game playing is neither the menace that many of its critics have portrayed it to be, nor necessarily without possible negative consequences.”
- Potential dampening of quality education – The internet opens up a Pandora’s Box of activities to keep children entertained. Many of these successfully marry education and entertainment, however many sacrifice the former for the latter, and often coerce their younger audience into parting with theirs or their parents cash at the same time. Equally plagiarism is rife and much harder to control than in pre-internet days.
- In contrast to my last positive bullet point, a number of research papers indicate that access to the internet and social media can actually lead to increased levels of loneliness, isolation, and depression among children and adults alike. The wall of anonymity which can grant unsavoury characters access to our children can also provide the same channel for bullies. You can read more about the effects of cyber-bullying in my post, ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff – Dealing with Trolls on the Internet’
There is no conclusion. In the 1980s, my growing up time, I’d like to think we were a little healthier, a little safer, and maybe even a little happier. However growing up in the present day offers an extraordinary wealth of opportunity, information, and connections that just didn’t exist when I was small.
I’m not sure which I would have preferred given the choice, and as much as I love the idea of being taught code from a young age so it came more naturally to me, and having Google by my side from birth to answer all those nagging questions I couldn’t answer, I think I would chose the one I had.
NB: Television. I really didn’t want to get into the television debate within the post itself as I think that deserves a whole post of its own. Kids in the ‘80s did watch a fair bit of TV when they weren’t doing other stuff. Television viewing is increasing in over 35s and declining in younger audiences who are taking to the internet to watch the same shows via a different medium. This, I feel, convolutes the issue so I’ve purposefully chosen to leave this part of the discussion for another day. If you have something you’d like to ‘air’ (sorry) about this topic of conversation be my guest and post away in the comments field. I may use your comment in a television based post unless you ask me not to.
Cute baby with laptop via BigStock
Countryside image via Google Maps
Front room photo via Laura Phillips