Prepare yourself for shock and awe: A new study reveals that cutting out digital media from everyday life is (drumroll please) overwhelmingly a really good thing. Researchers at UCLA sampled 105 public school sixth-graders; 51 attended a five-day digital detox camp, while the remaining 54 continued regular schooling and stayed plugged in to tech. Both groups were tested at the beginning and end of that period to measure their capacity to accurately interpret both verbal and unspoken emotional cues.
Those attending the Pali Institute, which hosts the digital detox camp, had no access to smartphones, television, video games or any other digital media (aka: this writer's fantasy world). At the start and finish of the study, students were shown 48 faces showing basic emotions such as happy, sad, angry and scared, with each subject asked to interpret the picture's emotions.
In the beginning, the recorded average was 14.02 incorrect guesses. After the five days, kids who stayed in school showed roughly the same results. But the average for kids who spent five days at the tech-banning camp dropped to 9.41 incorrect guesses.
As an annoyed teen glancing up from her iPhone would say: So what?
Why Unplugging Our Youth Is Important
Time for a shocking, but sadly-not-really-shocking-when-you-think-about-it, fact: The study's participating subjects reported an average of four-and-a-half hours logged per school day on texting, television and other digital mediums. In the course of an entire day, America's youth spend an average of 7.5 hours zoned out in the virtual world.
It's true that education has been bolstered by technological advances (which are now essential to many students), and that technology can even help with childhood development. But what are we sacrificing for these advances?
The fact is, developing minds thrive on social interaction, using interpersonal connections with, you know, real-life humans to learn empathy, compassion and respect. In the college years, these interactions help develop community and leadership capabilities, offer exposure to diversity, create personal and professional networks, and boost other essential aspects of the maturation process. Experts have also fretted about tech reliance fostering compulsive behavior and making it difficult to function in the non-tech world by, say, completing an actual pen-and-paper exam.
This study pretty persuasively shows that kids may be losing one of the most important skills of all: understanding and responding to the emotions of others. And that's something no tech device can ever teach.