Slow Reading

child_reading_wikimedia_commons“Slow reading,” what used to be called just “reading”— does it defeat the purpose of “ambient intelligence?” Is ambient intelligence itself a desirable phase of technology? It’s a moot point, because it’s nigh. I might be spreading the word about screen-free time as a buoyant, pearly treasure in daily life  (not just for children). Time in nature is one flavor of that treasure (even if it’s just feeding your chickens). Is Slow Reading reading slowly—languidly, even? Is it re-reading passages; turning the paper pages back and forward to find, or stumble, on passages you missed; is it browsing a book back-to-front, spread by spread (my habit of reading backwards annoys my teenager, yet I’ve seen her do it). Is the carrying about of the book from place to place in case you’ve a spare moment part of the reading experience?
Since I’m too busy tweeting (from two of my five accounts) while listening to the radio, while I have 12 windows on my browser open as well as my iPhone positioned within a cozy 12 inches from my eyes, I’ll leave you with that hanging question—Is Slow Reading Incompatible with Ambient Intelligence?—and this list of resources. They won’t give you an answer, but more questions that will uncurl like ferns.books_disconnect_edit

  1.  Robin Young’s recent radio interview with the cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolfe.
  2. A blog post by Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer at Microsoft, about what is moving us toward, in his words, “a world in which our devices, services and environments truly anticipate and understand our needs.”
  3. A “doodle” illustrating Nadella’s point (see #2 above) about the relationships between the Web, Big Data, human insights, and intelligent machines, among other things.
  4. And for good measure, a post by clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect, a result of her research on kids and youth and how today’s online/digital device-laden culture is affecting families and growing up. I was able to hear Dr. Steine-Adair talk about her research in Cambridge in March 2014. I am looking forward—albeit dreading—reading The Big Disconnect. A shorter piece on Dr. Adair’s recent work is here in the New York Times.


Easier to “Get Kids Outside” in Spring? Think Again

My daughter seemed  interested in coming outside with me this morning to check out the neighborhood owl. It has a regular shift at the entry to its nest, but that happens to coincide with the chaos of getting to school (not) on time. “But mommy,” she said, “I need a new bike helmet.” While this might in fact seem like a Stuff (capital S)-obsessed response to an invitation to an encounter with an animal thriving in its habitat, she has, in fact, outgrown her bicycle helmet, and biking would be a reasonable and pleasant way to take this outing.

Photo Copyright by Harry Powers
Photo Copyright by Harry Powers

The fact is, we could walk, but she vehemently opposed walking the half-mile or so to the Place of Owl. Despite this reluctance, she’s enthusiastic about the larger idea I proposed—that we visit the spot every week from now on, early on a Saturday morning. She even proposed writing an “owl schedule” on which we could record when we saw owl babies appear and other such milestones. What was striking, and what I want to comment on here, is the hard parameters that seemed to take root almost instantly around the concept of owl viewing.

Owl Observations= Bike with Mom


Owl Observations = Bike with Mom + New Bike Helmet

and since we didn’t have the bike helmet, and she wasn’t interested in changing the transport side of the equation, it became

Owl Observations=Null

Not only was I wishing, seemingly on her behalf, that the shock and awe of seeing a real live own would trump her antipathy to walking, but I was so trapped in my own script—as she was in hers—that we couldn’t resolve the problem. After all,  it was my problem; she had no stake in resolving it.

The concept of “scripts” in childhood, in play and in interactions, as far as I know, isn’t new. But media, i.e., the scripts of others, are more often than not designed to displace or distort an individual child’s own script, to provide solutions and plot lines, to hijack the child.

So often today it is as if children are being remote-controlled by the scripts of others [television, videos, electronic toys], instead of coming up with their own unique stories and problems to solve. [Remote-control childhood] is exactly the opposite of [a child’s] play, where he worked out a unique problem in a unique way, and learned how to have wonderful ideas that furthered both his development and the sense of satisfaction that can come from working things out on his own. Remote-control childhood] undermines children’s ability to come up with wonderful ideas of their own creation and, instead, promotes the rote learning that is a carbon copy of the script creators.

via Moving Beyond Remote-Controlled Teaching and Learning » Diane E. Levin.

I agree wholeheartedly with Diane Levin’s critique of the “script” but I think her critique deserves extension. She is barking up the Montessori tree, which by now, a hundred some years later, has created so many saplings and grafts and branches that there really is no excuse for disempowering children, even in such small matters as a bike ride in the neighborhood.

We hijack children, even our own, from piloting their own course of play. We’re constantly introducing new problems from the adult world into theirs. Sometimes this may be necessary; sometimes, convenient for us.  When we do this, are we modeling good brainstorming, adaptive thinking, critical thinking, and taking on diverse and uncomfortable points of view? When we conceive of a family project, create a plan, or fix a destination, are we enhancing—or instead circumventing— our kids’ ability to solve problems?

Dr. Michael Rich at CCFC’s Consuming Kids Summit: A Liveblog

Michael Rich (Ask the Mediatrician) is at the podium at The Center for Commercial-Free Childhood’s summit this morning. Here are my notes:

•as of 2010, 75 percent of kids age 0-1 in the U.S. watch DVDs
•CCFC was able to prove that what babies learn from television…is how to watch television
•What does the growing infant brain need? Not neurons, synapses…

Pardon my newbieness at the liveblog medium, but sticking to Twitter’s 140 characters just got a little too frustrating this morning. These bullets will be fairly selective excerpts from Rich’s presentation. Rich shows small children fighting each other after watching Power Rangers.

•Violence in media is one of the best researched area in effects of screen time on children’s mental health.

•About 1,000 good papers show, consistently, one or more of 3 outcomes:

-increase in fear and anxiety in younger children (inflates presence of violence from real situation).

-desensitizes all of us. The more we see it, the more we adapt.

-in some children, there are increased aggressive thoughts and behaviors

•For bullying to occur, you need a bully, a victim and bystanders. These three parties correspond to the three effects above.

Rich: All Media are educational………whether about Big Macs, Killing, or How to Read.

National data from 2010 shows average time use of 8-18 year olds. The average is 7 hours and 38 minutes every day, does not incl 33 min of talking and 1 min and 35 secs of texting (this was 2010).

But because of multitasking, there is 10 hours and 45 minutes average exposure to media content.

•There is a dose-response relationship between media time and obesity.

•Manchester Public Schools (NH) Media Study is analagous to the Framingham Heart Study

In the May issue of Pediatrics will have the paper that shows that attention to commercial television is the strongest predictor of increased obesity in individuals. No relationship beween computer, video game, or cell phone use and obesity.

Does media use influence risk for early alcohol use? There is positive dose-response rel between media multitasking and early alcohol use.

Fire Up Your Engines: Screen-Free Week Starts April 29th

Giant Bubbles for Health. Photo by Harald Bischoff
Giant Bubbles for Health. Photo by Harald Bischoff

Screen-Free Week (April 29–May 5, 2013) gets a lot of flak, not to mention wolf-crying from some parties. Is it a slippery slope towards the denial of digital citizenship if we suggest kids should spend less time on computers, tablets, and e-readers?

There are many good arguments for children to be educated in technology and that schools train kids to be good digital citizens. Technology, screens, media—it’s part of our landscape now, and equipping our kids for survival means giving them that skill set. However, “advergaming,” dopamine-induced calm, and using ipads to fill kids’ downtime doesn’t hold any benefit for them (perhaps, it does, though, to overstressed parents and caregivers). Daydreaming, running around, and real-life play has a developmentally functional role.

Turning off our phones, ipads, gaming devices, and televisions for a week—filling the downtime with uptime instead of screen time, is a way to model connectedness for kids. The other kind of connectedness.

Is Screen-Free week a haven for Luddites and anti-technology, granola-crunching, bread-baking, wooden-toy-pushers? Well, I may be a card-carrying member of the last three of those groups, but I’ve also been networked and tweeting for a good long while. I’m never going back, but I am vigilant about screen-time in my household.SFW-logo-with-2013-date-and-website

This TEDxRainer talk by Dr. Dimitri Christakis is a good introduction to research on how TV and video exposure affect the development of attention skills in children. His lab found that the more cognitive stimulation kids received by age 3 (reading, museum visits, singing to kids), the better their ability to pay attention at age 7. TV and video had a correspondingly negative effect on later attention skills. For every hour of TV watched per day before age 3, there was a 10 percent negative difference in attentional skills at age 7.

Need more reasons to consider going screen-free and talking your school, household, or significant other into joining you? Here’s an excerpt from the Institute of Medicine‘s Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policy:

Major federal government initiatives have concluded that screen time is related to weight outcomes, and to adequacy of physical activity, but do not limit their definition of screen time to media that contains food advertising. The CDC’s Task Force on Community Preventive Services recommends behavioral interventions aimed at reducing screen time based on “sufficient evidence of effectiveness for reducing measured screen time and improving weight-related outcomes”. They define screen time as “time spent watching TV, videotapes, or DVDs; playing video or computer games; and surfing the internet.” In identifying research gaps, they point out that important research issues remain, including that “additional research is needed to identify how screen time affects health outcomes”. One of their research questions is “What is the mechanism for screen time being associated with weight-related outcomes?” (Community Guide, 2010).

Healthy People 2020 positions screen time as a direct competitor with adequate physical activity in children from birth to 12th grade. Key physical activity objectives recommended by Healthy People 2020 (HHS, 2010) include: increase the proportion of children aged 0 to 2 years who view no television or videos on an average week day; increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 through 12th grade who view television, videos, or play video games for less than 2 hours a day; and increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 years to 12th grade who use a computer or play computer games outside of school (or nonschool work) for less than 2 hours a day.

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)(2001) recommends limiting children’s total media time to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day and discouraging television viewing for children younger than 2 years of age. Yet, a recent study suggests that more than a third of health care providers fail to discuss television guidelines with parents (Spivack et al., 2010).

Although the committee thought it was reasonable to assume that the relationship between screen time and obesity found among 2 to 5 year olds is likely to be similar in the birth to 2 age group, there was insufficient evidence about this relationship for the committee to make an obesity prevention recommendation for the younger age group. The committee notes, however, that there is evidence unrelated to obesity (e.g., about cognitive development) that has led others to raise concerns about any screen time in this age group. Thus the committee believes that discouraging screen time in this age group may be important for other reasons, as noted by AAP (2001).

Full document here:

You can find a slew of suggestions for Screen-Free Week organizing and activities at Consider a granola-making party for your neighborhood gang of rascals (then tweet about it the following week).