Television was a problem. It took over households in the 1950s in the developed parts of the world, and it took a little longer to become a problem, a threat to family quality time and productivity, in our part of the world.
I remember television and its side effects being a topic in my debate class in the early 2000s. In fact, it was possibly the most worn-out topic to construct an argumentative essay on or warm up in debate classes with fellow “opposition” team members. “Is television a nuisance or a blessing?” became a topic I was well-versed in, not because my research was meticulous rather because, I thought at the time, my school teachers lacked creativity.
But in hindsight, I understand now why it was repeated and debated on an endless loop. It was “a bad effect” of technology, an effect that we were quick to dismiss as detrimental but not really engage in the whys and hows it became an effect too prevalent to take up all our room for discussions.
In hindsight, what I remember from my fifth, sixth, and seventh grade schooling is perhaps an attempt by the school authorities to raise awareness about “the effects” of television, when watched incessantly. “Excessive” was the problem, while television was genuinely a means of entertainment and even education -- a magic box which gave an individual choice and freedom to surf through diverse worlds and settle on a channel of respective interest -- when watched too much, it could morph the viewers' view on life and change an individual's daily routine. From keeping children inside the house away from playgrounds to eating up study hours and time for extra curricular activities, the magic set in the living room began to become a tool of destruction more than a chance to see the world through its eyes.
And with time, other forms of technology took television's spot in debates and essay topics. Internet became a problem, a raging problem especially since it could not be contained in a box in the living room. Smart-phones and social media took over most of our lives, but the effect on children and pre-teens is still of much concern and grievance.
What most parents and schools still fail to understand is, like every other new source of recreation under the banner of technological advancement, we cannot stop this. We cannot ban young children and pre-teens (as much as we would like to) from using smart phones and watching videos on YouTube. We cannot forcibly prevent these “effects” to affect the lives of the children in our family. It isn't possible and it's far from a realistic approach to tackle these modern-age problems.
What we can do, however, is invest. We need to invest in familial relationships, spend quality time with children (no, sitting by your child while you look at who posted what on Facebook does not count), and also make them aware of technology that comes in boxes and that can be held in our hands and how lethal it is to productivity and how fast it takes up all our time.
We have to, by all means, teach children at home (no, schools cannot do this on its own) about the wonders of “outside,” about how outdoor activities such as sports and/or an evening stroll is good for the heart. Children must know how it doesn't only help us physically but also allows us to not be controlled by some five inch screens.
We can tackle these “bad effects” if only parents and family members collectively prioritize family time and teach the young ones the values of life, the gems and wonders that are to be found in books and in people, outside and much beyond the screens they are holding in their hands.
Less technology, especially in childhood, can, in fact, change lives.
Nusmila Lohani is an Editorial Assistant, Dhaka Tribune