Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘time

Ah, screen time. Parents want to know how much time is too much, armchair experts offer numbers, and much of the mainstream media perpetuates ignorance around the issue [examples in this video segment].

When will the fear-mongering stop? If the constant refrain from the Pessimists Archive podcast is correct, the answer is that it will not. We take comfort in what is old and fear what is new.

But there are ways to break out of the fear and inertia. One way is to ask better questions.

The easy but wrong question to ask is: How much screen time should I limit my child/student to? There is no magic number because every person is different and a number (if it even exists) depends on the context. The context begs other queries, e.g., when/where to use, what is the screen use for, why it is used.

Consider scenario A. A person is watching a video on a mobile phone while waiting to cross the road and continues watching while crossing. If you stick to the how much screen time question, my answer is zero if you value that person’s life.

Now switch the context to scenario B. The same person watches the video while travelling to work on the train. I say watch as much as your ride, data plan, wallet, or sanity allows.

Let us consider social learning contexts next.

In scenario C, a group of students decides to meet at a neighbourhood McDonald’s to discuss a class project. They need their phones to fact check, but they get distracted with memes. How much screen time should they have? How is contextual use important?

In scenario D, the same group meets online to collaboratively build a world in Minecraft. This is part of their project on climate change. Again, how much screen time should they have? How is contextual use more important?

It can take hours to edit one YouTube video. You might be able to watch one hundred videos in the same time if you go down a YouTube rabbit hole. The quantity of time is the same, but the quality of the tasks are different.

If we learn to stop asking the how much question and focus on the how, what, where, or why questions, we learn to empathise with our children and students.

That is my rant. Now here is a real ranter’s rant.

Video source

The first Friday of September is Teachers’ Day in Singapore.

Schools celebrated the day yesterday with half days and staff dinners. Today is a school holiday and an early start to a one-week break.

Teachers’ Day is great for businesses that take advantage of it. But quite a few teachers still return to school during the break to get work done.

Whether teachers get to enjoy a break or not, they might be thankful that they were not subject to the rules of the past.

Video source

We do not need a time machine to travel back to the past in order to reflect on how much (or how little) has changed, and to appreciate what we have now.

We do not need to share exactly the same contexts (US or Singapore) to appreciate how difficult it is to teach or how much more difficult it is to educate.

This scattered reflection comes courtesy of binge listens to thought-provoking podcasts like Pessimists Archive and No Such Thing As A Fish.

I started think about how Internet access has changed over my adult life. Specifically, how service providers charged for this utility then and now. This led me to a critique of an overused word — disruption.

When I first started going online, I needed a dialup modem and a phone line. This meant that I had to pay for a phone line subscription every quarter, a monthly Internet subscription, and a per-minute use of the Internet. The first two were fixed costs; the last could balloon every month. I call this time-based Internet access.

Such access is not as common nowadays but it still exists. Consider how public libraries, airports, or coffee joints still limit Internet or wifi access by time.

When I moved on to DSL, I still had to pay for a phone line but I also had to think about how much I might consume every month and at what bandwidth. Exceed that volume and I had to pay extra. This was volume-based Internet access.

While this might seem like an archaic concept, it is still common in mobile phone data plans. You get an upper limit every month. Exceed that limit and pay a premium for every unit volume, especially if you are overseas.

When I moved to cable — first copper, then fibre optic — I did not have to worry about volume limits. I only had to decide what bandwidth or Internet speeds I desired. This speed-based Internet access was like paying a fixed sum for an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The speed and bandwidth-based Internet access model seems the most reasonable now given the state of current technologies, i.e., broadband fibre optic cable in just about every home here. According to government statistics for Jan 2019, there were:

  • 3800 residential DSL connections
  • 106,900 residential cable connections
  • 1,260,300 residential fibre optic connections

Changes in residential wired broadband subscriptions.

What is the point of all these numbers?

Some might say that fibre optic access has disrupted the Internet access game. They seem to have a point if you consider the dominance of the speed-based model over the time and volume models.

However, the facts are that the three systems co-exist and that one did not lead to the evolution of the other. A newer method did not replace an earlier one. Fibre optics has not yet disrupted DSL — it provides access to the same Internet differently.

What has been disrupted is consumer expectations. It is not reasonable to pay for time and volume for wired Internet when you realise you can do so by speed with an all-you-can-eat subscription.

Technology did not really disrupt Internet access. We have far too many models and needs for that to happen. But it has helped change expectations. We expect fast and cheap; we know that anything else is living in the past and getting cheated.

I suspect that there is a similar disruption in expectations for education (not schooling). Similar in pattern, but not exactly mirroring. After all, education is not a utility, is much more complicated, and takes longer to change.

Simplified, people pursue their educations full-time, part-time, on-the-job, or lifelong. The circumstances under which different people do this is varied. However, they are like to share similar expectations, e.g., no/low cost, timely, meaningful, driven by utility.

The expectations vary by time. A full-time student might forego low cost for a few years, but will likely expect not to pay for on-the-job education. The same student might not see the utility or timeliness of a course, but will expect professional development to be provided when needed and useful immediately.

Any entity that claims to have disrupted, say, the higher education market is making a questionable claim. It might provide cheaper, quicker, or even more timely information, but it has not displaced lecture halls, tutorial rooms, and study areas. At best that entity can try to meet the needs of students at that stage — how long (time), how much (volume), how fast (speed).

I time travelled again about two weeks ago. How so? I had to apply for GIRO payments for my electricity bill the good old fashioned way.

When I jumped on the switch-your-utility-provider bandwagon last June, the provider, Sunseap, did not offer automatic payment by credit card. All my other utility bills — water, gas, Internet, digital phone line, mobile phone accounts — are paid this way. As are other payments, e.g., installments. It is a fact of modern life.

I resorted to paying by mobile. This meant scanning a QR code in my monthly e-bill. Sounds current, does it not? No, not when I have to remind myself to do this every month. If I had to remind myself to pay every bill manually, I would need to invest unnecessary bandwidth on things so basic.

Yes, this is a first-world issue. But can you blame me for expecting better of a provider that claims to be the first to provide solar-generated electricity to commercial and mainstream consumers?

I had to travel back to the past of printing out a paper-based GIRO form, fish an envelope from a dusty box, and buy a stamp from a post office. I had to do these things regularly when I started working a little over 30 years ago. But it was not a nostalgic trip down memory lane because it was inconvenient and inefficient.

The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed. --William Gibson

This experience was a reminder to me that the future is here, but not evenly distributed. It was also a reminder that one public facing group of an organisation can look progressive while other parts can be stuck rigidly in the past.

I have more time to reflect on this. It will take weeks for me to know if my GIRO form went through and the application got approved.

This op ed piece pushes the screen time debate to a better place than fear-mongering. It points a finger to the very people who fear out of ignorance.

The ignorance is not about the research on screen time or what growing up looks like now. It is about parental roles in oversharing, negatively modelling, and ignoring the collection and use of private data.

So instead of focusing on kids’ screen time, perhaps adults should screen their own habits and biases.

Video source

People on the street were asked to tell the time with a clock. An actual clock with a face and arms, not a digital display.

The expected response might be: Oh, young people these days!

To those who judge, I ask if they can do what these “young people” can do or what their ancestors could do. I doubt many can organise a movement with social media or change a horseshoe.

Can you do it? Can you change with the times and not judge it?

Video source

This video is as much about misconceptions surrounding screen time as it is about:

  • Reading beyond headlines
  • Understanding how newspapers are not journals
  • Distinguishing engagement and accuracy; statistical significance and effect size; correlation and causation

It also illustrated how large sample sizes can make tiny effects statistically significant even though they have no practical significance.

For example, the video cited a study in Nature Human Behaviour that had a sample size of 355,358 adolescents. The video (also this article in Vox) highlighted how the study found that “wearing eyeglasses and eating potatoes also had significant yet small negative effects on teens’ wellbeing”. And yet we do not vilify either.

Add to that the fact that researchers have to decide where cut-offs are that distinguish statistically significant effects from non-significant ones (e.g., P value 0.01 vs 0.05). The same researchers or the agencies they work for might also make cut-offs like recommended screen times of no more than one hour before age five, even if the evidence does not support strict limits for any age groups.

TLDR? Newspapers oversimplify complex phenomena by providing easy answers. Real learning is not in taking these answers at face value. It happens when you explore nuance and depth instead.

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code

Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: