YOUNG GIRLS AND PHONES
(December 5, 2010)
At the beginning of this essay, I observed that most girls — some as young as 9 or 10 years old — have a strong desire to have their own phone. I then asked the question, Why should this be the case? The answer to this question was complicated, requiring us to have a long discussion about young girls and how they are affected by technology, culture, and their environment.
To start, we discussed the differences between female and male brains, and how this leads to different types of social behavior. I explained how the female brain is deeply affected by various hormones at two important times: before birth and, about a decade later, during puberty. Then, to illustrate how strongly — and unexpectedly — the young female brain can be hijacked by modern phone technology, I told you the story of a 13-year-old girl who became a text-messaging addict.
Next, we discussed the female brain and how it is effected by the hormones and the changes that come with puberty. This led us to a discussion of the part of our brain called the pleasure center, which allowed us to understand why it is so hard for people who become habituated to behaviors related to certain types of technology to stop such behaviors.
We then discussed girls and puberty — what happens and why it is important — along with the fact that so many girls are entering puberty at younger ages than used to be the case, and why that is so important.
Finally, we pulled everything together to explain why a 10-year-old girl would have such a strong desire to have her own phone.
I hope you found these ideas interesting and useful, and I am summarizing them here for a reason. This essay focused on one group of people (young girls) and one important technology (modern phones). However, as I am sure you realize, what we have been discussing is only a small part of a much larger picture.
Have you ever wondered about the strong effects that these types of technologies have on all of us? By now, it should make sense to you that what you do, what you think, and how you feel are all intimately bound up with — not only modern technology and tools — but your brain's pleasure center, your hormones, and what you eat. Your experiences are also strongly connected to the prevailing culture, your social expectations, and the environment in which you live, eat and work.
It is my belief that the time has come to recognize that, when it comes to global health, there is a ubiquitous condition we must start discussing: a mental health epidemic of overwhelming proportions, created by an over-abundance of junk communication and bad technology habits. The symptoms caused by this epidemic — what I call the "Island Syndrome" — are endemic to the developed world. As such, like obesity, they spread wherever Western culture is adopted indiscriminately.
To recognize and explain these issues — what is happening and why — I am working on a large project, including a book called The Island Syndrome. I invite you to take a look and see what you think.
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