A recent headline inspired me to take a weeklong Facebook Detox, starting today: A northern Colorado woman who was playing a game on Facebook while her 13-month-old drowned in a bathtub was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison. Shannon Johnson, 34, was so consumed by that day’s session of Café World that she didn’t think twice about leaving her baby alone in a tub full of water.
AP reports that Johnson put her son in the tub for his bath a little after 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 20. She then left him unsupervised as she went to another room to share videos, check status updates and play Café World on Facebook.
So while her child drowned, Johnson was enjoying the psychological rewards of being in charge of her own virtual restaurant, making her way to the top of Zynga‘s fake culinary world.
Zynga, the creator of FarmVille and a lot of other social games, has a talent for ripping off products from other companies and creating their own addictive Facebook games that are particularly popular with mothers.
Let me just preface the rest of this post by saying that I’m not into slippery slope talk. Obviously, not every parent who enjoys social gaming on Facebook is going to make the same negligent mistake that Johnson did. However, I’m bringing this up anyway to raise a concern that I have about how social gaming impacts family life and the gamer’s view of his/her own abilities.
There are many studies being released these days about the cognitive benefits of gaming. Quest 2 Learn, a digital school in NYC, uses gaming as part of their curriculum. So clearly, gaming isn’t the enemy. Games didn’t kill little Joseph. Negligence did. Before gaming hit the mainstream, parents went to jail for accidents that happened while they watched TV. Today, it’s happening all over the world because of gaming addictions. Same problem — different platform.
As I mentioned in my previous post in this series, I am planning on having a child. Even before I made this decision, I’ve always thought about how technology affects my life now and how my habits will impact my future family.
Clearly, having children doesn’t diminish Facebook’s appeal. Plenty of parents spend chunks of their day checking their friends status updates, posting videos, and playing games. Some parents have a healthy balance between their online/offline worlds, while others struggle to figure out what works for them.
I don’t think that there is a turnkey solution to this problem of negligent acts brought on by Facebook gaming. I think that it takes a combination of self-motivated personal assessment, research, input from friends, and a genuine desire to have a healthier family life.
If you find that you mostly prefer to play FarmVille over spending time with your children, what does that say about the dynamic at home? What needs to change?
For the next week while I’m on my Facebook Detox, I am going to think about the kind of parent that I want to be. My job requires me to stay attuned to the latest in media/tech, and as a result I do spend a LOT of time on Facebook. For now, the only person who is affected by that is me (and my friends/dates/family who get annoyed). But next year, my life is going to dramatically change. And I don’t want to ever come close to what happened to the poor little boy in Colorado.
Danah Boyd, a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, blogged last year about risk reduction strategies on Facebook used by teens. I think that parents could benefit from trying some of these tactics as well as part of their Facebook Detox.
I highly recommend you buy/borrow/steal a book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. In it, author and tech expert Nicholas Carr shares the following important info:
(description via Booklist) “He looks to neurological science to gauge the organic impact of computers, citing fascinating experiments that contrast the neural pathways built by reading books versus those forged by surfing the hypnotic Internet, where portals lead us on from one text, image, or video to another while we’re being bombarded by messages, alerts, and feeds.
This glimmering realm of interruption and distraction impedes the sort of comprehension and retention ‘deep reading’ engenders, Carr explains. And not only are we reconfiguring our brains, we are also forging a ‘new intellectual ethic,’ an arresting observation Carr expands on while discussing Google’s gargantuan book digitization project. What are the consequences of new habits of mind that abandon sustained immersion and concentration for darting about, snagging bits of information? What is gained and what is lost? Carr’s fresh, lucid, and engaging assessment of our infatuation with the Web is provocative and revelatory.”
It’s not just science mumbo-jumbo. The Internet, gaming, Facebook — ALL of it is changing the way we think and behave. And for this and future generations, it all starts at home. How are YOU going to make sure that your children are empowered to handle the next tsunami of tech innovation and it’s impact on their lives? I’m going to think about that this week and will share anything I come up with…
This is the second in a series of posts on how Facebook is changing the way that new parents share information about their experience and how Facebook is changing the way people parent.
Disclosure: I am not a licensed therapist or “Parenting Expert.” I am a transmedia professional and I observe human nature. Most importantly (to me), I plan on having a child next year and am sharing my thoughts as part of my journey.