The Screen


When I spoke recently to Faye Mishna about online bullying, she showed me, as an aside, a video of an iPad-savvy one-year-old who can’t work out why magazine images don’t scroll and zoom at the touch of a finger.

The video concludes with the line, “For my 1 year old daughter, a magazine is an iPad that does not work. It will remain so for her whole life. Steve Jobs has coded a part of her OS.”

Way to freak me out, Internet.

My first child just celebrated his first birthday and number two is due to touch down in November. Naturally, I’m in a perpetual tizz about the ubiquity of glowing rectangles. TVs are everywhere – restaurants, doctors’ waiting rooms, shopping malls, highway billboards. Not to mention my own collection of touch-sensitive devices courtesy of Jobs.

So far, we’ve been good about keeping our devices switched off when the boy is awake, but the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum, suggests that might all change soon.

“As a new parent, I dutifully followed the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines—no TV until two,” she wrote recently. “I did so in the manner of other parents I knew, which is to say with my first child. By 2007, when I was juggling a two-year-old and a newborn, a little TV watching in the pre-early morning seemed pretty appealing.”

Way to freak me out, legacy media.

Am I crazy to worry that glowing screens are effectively the zombie apocalypse, eating my kids’ brains and leaving them obese, sleepless, aggressive and unable to concentrate on one thing for more than a few minutes?

I asked Donna Kotsopoulos, a math educator and researcher at Wilfrid Laurier University. She pointed me to those same recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics on media use by children under two years (briefly, they strongly discourage television for kids that age, but don’t go so far as to forbid it).

That’s TV. What about tablets? On one hand, they seem better because the user is active rather than passive. On the other, they can be more immersive. Intuitively, a tablet feels as though it more thoroughly cuts a child (or adult, for that matter) off from the world.
There is no shortage of videos featuring kids and iPads.

I can watch them endlessly, and have such a wide range of personal reactions (Cute! Terrifying! Fun! Don’t hurt your brain! Ten years from now, you will dominate me technologically!) that I ultimately want to seek refuge in data. As it happens, Kotsopoulos is part of a research project aimed at finding out more about the effects of mobile devices on young brains.

“We are in the middle of a study right now with tablets – funded through the Ontario Centres for Excellence,” she told me. “The one we are investigating is the VINCI . The research is rather grey on the issue because most of the [current] research or policy statements do not consider mobile devices.”

Kotsopoulos and her colleague Joanne Lee run a program called LittleCounters. In these workshops, they use interactive whiteboards but they will wait to see the results of more research before they consider using tablets.This puts my mind at greater ease, as this fall, I’m planning to participate in one of these workshops with my son, and report back here. I will also update any new research results related to kids and mobile devices.

Way to not freak me out, world of university research.

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  1. Egrech

    New research (Early childhood television viewing predicts explosive leg strength and waist circumference by middle childhood
    Caroline Fitzpatrick, Linda S Pagani and Tracie A Barnett
    International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (in press)) indicates that high levels of TV during childhood can contribute to weight later on in life – can’t imagine that sitting in-front of a tablet would be much different.  In addition, perhaps the question to ask is if those children who are computer literate are computer intelligent.  I teach at university and many of my students have no idea who to use the internet to research issues – but they know how to text at an unbelievable number of words (shortened of course!) per minute.  Ask them to research and issue and they struggle (and quote Wikipedia.)  Do we need to introduce infants to tablets – or is it another way that we can allow ourselves, as parents, to do what we want to do while our children are otherwise occupied – oh – and “safe”.

Blog Posts

If you’re happy ...

Cathy Majtenyi | October 22, 2014

Brock University recently launched a series of monthly podcasts covering a wide range of themes. As part of our own package of “Belief” related blog posts, Research Matters is pleased to present this exclusive interview with Brock Associate Professor of Psychology, Michael Busseri. Busseri will join two other colleagues to explore this topic in Brock’s January 2015 podcast, “What gives us a sense of wellbeing?” (Busseri is no stranger to Research Matters, having answered one of the great questions asked of the Curiosity Shop, “Why is the grass always greener on the other side?”)   BU: How do you define wellbeing? MB: Historically there have been two broad traditions. One looks at things like satisfaction, enjoyment, pleasure and not pain. That’s called the Hedonic Tradition. The second tradition is about finding meaning, purpose and growth; that’s called the Eudemonic Tradition. Where the rubber meets the road for most people is the question of, ‘How can I get more of that, whatever it is?’ It all sounds good: who wouldn’t want a meaningful life, a purposeful life, an enjoyable life? One camp says, you know what? Happiness, wellbeing – regardless of the type – is determined by the genetic lottery of life. It’s more like a personality trait. They may fluctuate around that day-to-day, moment-to-moment, but if you check in with them every year and do that for 10 or 20 years in a row you find a lot of stability. The other camp says, well, that might be true for many people but there’s still a significant chunk of individuals who experience radical changes as a result of, unfortunately, largely negative life events: the death of a spouse; the loss of a job; a tragic injury; horrible crime. The impact of that event can last years for some individuals. BU: Can we become happier? MB: Short-term: there’s lots of evidence that people change their wellbeing; moment-to-moment, day-to-day, week-to-week. Longer term: it’s harder to find people who show the golden pattern of continuous increases. Where there are long-term changes in wellbeing, it tends to be on the down side. The ratio is almost two to one. But even those people who experience the lasting decreases – they are rare. We can be talking no more than 10 per cent of the population. The vast majority of us over the long term tend to be stable.   BU: Should we be discouraged or encouraged by those statistics? MB: The argument is, this is actually a positive thing! It shows how adaptive and resilient people are. The high highs, the people who experience lots of positive experiences in our lives are also the individuals who tend to experience lots of lows. In the extreme, we tend to think of these as “manic” individuals. Usually, this idea of huge fluctuations in wellbeing is not something we would recommend. BU: Is there any part of our wellbeing we can control? MB: Most of us want a satisfying and meaningful life beyond simply saying, well, you may win or lose the genetic lottery of life. But we can choose how we spend our time. Moment-to-moment, day-to-day, week-to-week, we can have some influence by choosing certain activities or choosing to spend time with people who are meaningful and important to us. Even if we realize that that boost is going to be temporary, who cares? For those moments that we’re experiencing it, we’re happy! BU: Can we “bank” these happy moments to draw upon when we feel sad? MB: Another controversial issue. Some people have argued that what you experience moment-to-moment gets stored in a separate bank than the part of you that holds the beliefs about your life. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize-winning psychologist, has suggested we talk about this as two “selves.” The “experiencing self” is the you that, moment-to-moment, is experiencing life. The other self is the “story-telling self,” which has beliefs about how your life is going. Often those beliefs don’t align very closely with your experiencing self. It turns out there are cultural myths about wellbeing that influence our stories. One of these is that young adults tend to believe life gets better and better, and older adults tend to believe that life gets worse and worse. Both are myths, but you find these myths around the world. They’re wrong because for most individuals, the “real life story” is one of stability, not one of inclines and declines.

Lucid dreaming depends on ...

Trent University Staff | October 21, 2014

New research by Trent University Oshawa Anthropology professor Roger Lohmann and graduate student Shayne Dahl indicates that cultural learning shapes the kind of awareness and control people can experience while dreaming. “Scouring the ethnographic record on dreaming for hints of lucidity under Professor Lohmann’s guidance, I found something surprising: that lucid dreaming is widely thought to have serious consequences,” said Dahl, who completed his M.A. thesis, “Knowing Means Connecting with the Source of Life: Knowledge and Ethics among Blackfoot Traditionalists” at Trent in 2012. (He is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto.) “As one of my Blackfoot informants put it, ‘You could die in your dream.’” Lohmann and Dahl’s findings were published in the 2014 collection, Lucid Dreaming: New Perspectives on Consciousness in Sleep. Lucid dreaming – waking consciousness arising during a dream – has been a hot topic of scientific research in recent years. According to Lohmann and Dahl, the common assumption that dreams are products of isolated imaginations has distorted our understanding of lucidity’s variation in form, function, and real-world outcomes. Pop culture portrayals in films such as Avatar and Inception present fantasies where lucid dreaming enables marvelous real-world powers. Many traditional and religious cultural worldviews take the relationship between waking and dream worlds as reality rather than fantasy. Lohmann’s fieldwork in Papua New Guinea among the Asabano people explored how they used dreaming as evidence for and contact with supernatural beings. “Asabano converts often told me that seeing dreams of Jesus or Heaven convinced them that what the missionary told them was true,” said Lohmann. “It struck me that they had to believe their dreams were more than figments of their own imaginations to reach that conclusion, and that I, for example, would not be convinced by the same experience because of my different cultural background.” Similarly, Dahl’s fieldwork in Alberta included encounters with Aboriginal medicine men who practiced lucid dreaming. “Shayne’s field experiences and his search of ethnographic literature brought home to us that lucid dreaming has profound potential for people who think it’s more than just a fantasy. We found that descriptions of lucid dreams are radically different in form, function, and outcome depending on the cultural assumptions of the dreamer,” said Lohmann. Their research revealed evidence that in some cultures, lucid dreaming is unknown, while in others it is a commonly taught skill. In some, lucidity is tacit rather than acknowledged, but people nevertheless believe that they actively undertake goals in their dreams. Lohmann and Dahl found that this implicitly lucid “volitional dreaming” commonly appears in ethnographic accounts of dreaming. In cultures where “generative” theory holds sway, dreaming of something is understood to cause it to happen in the waking world. This leads people to experience lucid dreams as opportunities to create or do magic. By contrast, people who believe dreams are what one sees during “soul travel” use lucid dreams as an opportunity to spiritually visit real places. “Even when we consciously disbelieve our dreams,” Dahl said, “They still affect us at a deeper, emotional level that we can’t easily control with reason.” “All of this shows that cultural dream theories are multiple, that people invoke them in complex ways, and that they are at the very core of what lucid dreaming is and what it makes possible,” said Lohmann. This story was originally published by Trent University on, July 15, 2014. Is has been edited for style, brevity and clarity and appears here with permission.

In money we trust

U of T Staff (With introduction by Patchen Barss) | October 20, 2014

A few years ago, late, late at night, I was tooling around the streets of Ottawa in the back seat of a Jeep being driven by former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. American economist and Nobel Laureate George Akerlof was riding shotgun. read more »
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Marianne Koh | September 30, 2014

Cash gave way to magnetic strips, which gave way to chip-and-PIN, which gave way to “tap-and-pay” credit card scanners. Get ready for the next thing. read more »
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