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We live in a society of ‘screenagers’ – but devices are not an addiction, researchers say

18 May 2018 @TeesUniNews

 

One of the largest studies into people’s screen habits has debunked a number of myths about the so-called dangers associated with society’s persistent reliance on devices.

The research challenges the scaremongering and commonly-held stereotypes relating to issues such as screen addiction, trolling, gaming and gambling.

But it does accept that digital technology has completely transformed our global society and warns that preventing children from using screens is akin to child abuse.

The Screen Society study conducted an extensive survey with over 2,000 internet users across the world to paint a clear picture of how people really interact with smartphones, tablets and computers and what impact this has on their lives.

One of the largest studies into people’s screen habits has debunked a number of myths about the so-called dangers associated with society’s persistent reliance on devices.

The research challenges the scaremongering and commonly-held stereotypes relating to issues such as screen addiction, trolling, gaming and gambling. But it does accept that digital technology has completely transformed our global society and warns that preventing children from using screens is akin to child abuse.

The Screen Society study conducted an extensive survey with over 2,000 internet users across the world to paint a clear picture of how people really interact with smartphones, tablets and computers and what impact this has on their lives.

The researchers, from Teesside University, Aston University and the University of South Australia, have coined the term screenagers, a none-generation term to describe people who continuously operate several modes of communication in order to negotiate their daily existence.

However, the study does conclude that screen addiction and the common stereotype that people in today’s society cannot function without their screen or device is a myth. People aren’t addicted to their screens in the sense that they lose control over their actions. They engage in activity and communication because they are enjoyable, not because they are addicted.

One participant in the study, a woman from New Zealand, said: 'Nothing is addictive unless you allow it to be. We still have the ability to make the choice - it's not exercising the choice that gives the appearance of addiction.'

Co-Author Dr Kevin Dixon, Senior Lecturer in Sports Sociology at Teesside University, said: 'We must remember that humans are the creators of this technology and not its slave. Think of how the internet increases our propensity to learn. And if we are not learning directly, then we are communicating by forging relationships with others across geographical boundaries, consuming, playing games, talking politics, discussing our health, contemplating life and of course, we are having fun.

'So, every time you look at someone peering down at a screen, remind yourself that they’re not zombies or victims of addiction. The screens that they carry are modern tools that enable agents to give vent to all of our human passions.'

Professor Ellis Cashmore, Honorary Professor of Sociology at Aston University, is also a co-author of Screen Society. He says that such is the world of opportunity and information screens can provide, preventing young people from using them is akin to child abuse.

We must remember that humans are the creators of this technology and not its slave.

Dr Kevin Dixon

'Society has been completely transformed by the combination of screens and the internet and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities,” explained Professor Cashmore.

'We know through our own day to day lives and through our research that many parents ban their children from using smartphones and devices because they are worried about screen addiction – but what are the consequences of this? By removing screens, you are taking away an encyclopaedic source of information, depriving young people of a vital source of communication and potentially exposing them to a form of bullying and ridicule from other young people – reducing their self-esteem and confidence. Depriving young people of screens will almost certainly have long term negative effects on the children and is tantamount to child abuse.'

The Screen Society research has also examined the issue of trolls – highlighting the fact that every internet user is a potential troll, but also finding that the dangers of trolls are largely exaggerated.

Celebrities and politicians are usually the ‘victims’ as they conjure up feeling of love and hate in equal measure. But, rather than being something to be afraid of, Screen Society found that trolls are often figures of ridicule themselves, who are largely ignored rather than feared.

One respondent to the Screen Society project from Los Angeles stated: 'When I read a troll comment in a discussion I'm following, I typically roll my eyes and sigh then read on. I guess I'm part of the ‘do not feed the trolls’ camp, which I attribute to growing up in the age of real life bullies whom we were taught to ignore and walk away from.'

Dr Dixon added: 'Perspective is what’s missing in the contemporary depiction of trolls. Whilst they can be intimidating for some - I’m thinking particularly of children and the unwary - people are largely capable of contextualising trolls as a laughing stock.'

In addition, Screen Society has found that the rise in devices has had a monumental effect on politics and there is simply no longer such a thing as the uninformed voter.

Professor Cashmore added: 'Citizens of the world are one click away from the information they will use to inform political decisions. This makes it incredibly difficult for pollsters to predict how people will vote. If television revolutionised politicians as polished performers, social media has stripped this image to reveal their unfiltered views. Straight shooting without a mainstream media filter is an effective way to engage with voters.'

Other issues covered by the Screen Society team include gender, with the internet viewed as another platform that reflects the gender inequality that is present in all societies. Digital technology is also changing our relationship with health professionals and dating using devices reflects the accelerated social change in attitudes and actions.

Screen Society will be published in full by Palgrave Macmillan on 17 June 2018.


Staff profile


In the News

Screenage clicks
Irish News (Belfast), p23, 22/05/2018, The Irish News, online, 22/05/2018
Screen Society tells us that banning kids from using the internet at home is 'tantamount to child abuse.' Leona O'neill discusses.


Depriving children of screen time is tantamount to 'child abuse'
BBC Radio Tees, Mike Parr, 22/05/2018
Research by Teesside University, Aston University and the University of South Australia claims that depriving children as young as 4 of the internet is tantamount to child abuse.


Depriving children of screen time is tantamount to 'child abuse'
BBC Radio London, Paul Coia, 18/05/2018
Research by Teesside University, Aston University and the University of South Australia claims that depriving children as young as 4 of the internet is tantamount to child abuse.


Banning children from the internet is like 'child abuse' claims sociologist
The Independent, online, 18/05/2018, Yahoo! Style UK, online, 18/05/2018, i, p11, 17/05/2018, Mail UK, online, 18/05/2018
Forthcoming book Screen Society challenges the consensus that screen exposure is damaging for children.


Banning the internet is child abuse, parents told
The Times Ireland, p20, 18/05/2018, The Times Scotland, p12, 18/05/2018, The Times, online, 2018
One of the largest studies into people’s screen habits has debunked a number of myths about the so-called dangers associated with society’s persistent reliance on devices.


Stopping children using the internet is tantamount to child abuse, says academic
iNews, online, 16/05/2018
Preventing children from using internet-connected devices is the equivalent of child abuse and could have long-term implications on a child's development, an academic has suggested.