The balloon boy hoax carried out by Richard and Mayumi Heene has ended with the reality of jail time. The Heenes designed the stunt which included using their children and lying to authorities that their six year old son was in the runaway balloon. The Heenes are a symptom of today's culture that seeks a definition of reality created by media and technology. It has become a lifestyle and a new way of living. The Heenes, using their son as the missing balloon boy (who they named Falcon) were trying to get credentials for a "reality" show. Their exploitation of their children points out the changing reality of child development today.Reality is now defined within a technological and digital world of screen media, programmed for a new type of "success". We become lost in this new reality and it takes over our judgment, decision making and behavior. And it starts early.
More than 80 percent of teens play online games. More than 50 percent download music and more than 75 percent get their news online. More than 40 percent have made purchases online. Multiplayer online games (MMORPGs), role-playing fantasy games in which players "connect" with others using fictional characters and adventures, are the rage. World of Warcraft (WoW), considered the most popular MMORPG, has 11 million subscribers worldwide. Countless other games are available with huge followings. The industry continues to grow, despite the economy, and in 2008 $ topped 21 billion dollars in sales. James Cameron's much awaited film, Avatar, is reported to cost about $ 300 million, and is described as so alluring you can not tell what is real or what is animated. Experts have pointed out the addictive capacity of online computer games. But it is big business and that makes it a credible field of study. The University of California at Irvine has just announced a new major-an undergraduate degree in "game science". This new major is offered despite dramatic cutbacks and tuition increases amidst California's budget crisis. It is hard to understand how all this time spent in online virtual worlds and "gaming" can not detract from our psychological development, a sense of who we are in relation to others and the world, and affect our external capacity for self-control.
More than self-control is changing. Americans' decline in self-control and the increase in indulgent acts reflect profound cultural changes. Researchers have labeled the trend as Generation Me, a society with growing narcissistic traits and behaviors. One major factor in our changing human development is the dominance of screen media and the creation of virtual worlds by the amazing capacity of technology. Today's virtual worlds are a major component of Generation Me. This addictive use of technology has altered our connection to others and what is "real".
No matter what you call it – Virtual Reality, New Reality, False Reality, or Modern Reality – technology has dramatically altered our perception of what is real and what is "possible," and has changed child development and character development. Today's sense of reality is characterized by immediacy, illusionary expectations, inflated self-concepts, a demand for a perfect image, and loss of privacy and access to our inner world. All of these factors contribute to narcissistic tendencies and make us more psychologically vulnerable. In the end we are less stable in mood and behavior, and more defensive.
The escape into virtual worlds and the pursuit of reality based success is one part of a larger problem. Today's prevalence of screen media (TV, video, videogames, movies, web surfing, social networking, and texting) promotes a certain kind of thinking, one that is more immediate, impulsive, and faster. Experts are already putting forth that screen media is changing brain development and decreasing the ability to focus and sustain attention. The increase in technological thinking is at the expense of a slower and comprehensive type of quantitative thinking. Quantitative thinking involves a more sustained, intentional, and focused process necessary for comprehension and problem-solving. This type of thinking is needed for math and science-two areas where national test scores of US students have shown a serious decline.
Sorting out the positives of technology for children must be pitted against controlling exposure. Parents can be an important part of the solution by monitoring access to technological thinking and encouraging quantitative thinking. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to no more than two hours per day for children.Healthy Psychological development is not fostered by virtual worlds or reality shows, but by unprogrammed free play for children, less time on screen media, and more time with quantitative thinking rather than technological activity. Contrary to today's popular mantra- we need more time thinking in the box, rather than out of the box.