July 10th 2010

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Articles from this issue:

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Julia Gillard's long-term agenda

CANBERRA OBSERVED: No easy policy options for new PM Julia Gillard

Shuffling the deck-chairs leaves key issues unresolved

Feminist-backed push to disadvantage parentcare

HOUSING: Rampant divorce pricing young couples out of homes

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Have we reached the end of the beginning?

LEGAL AFFAIRS: Move to centralise control of the legal profession

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Beijing's softly, softly approach to Taiwan, Hong Kong

CHINA: China labour activism heralds profound change

EUROPEAN UNION: EU President admits people misled by euro project

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Suppressing the truth about maternal deaths

Meet the new family, digitally deluged

PARENTHOOD: No man will ever replace a real mum

Vietnam veterans (letter)

Tony Abbott and his faith (letter)

New states deserve support (letter)

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Who jails and tortures the most journalists on earth?; US Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan

BOOK REVIEW: A RAT IS A PIG IS A DOG IS A BOY: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement, by Wesley J. Smith

BOOK REVIEW: WAR IN THE PACIFIC, 1941-1945, by Richard Overy

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Meet the new family, digitally deluged

by Albert Mohler

News Weekly, July 10, 2010
Christians are not called to be modern-day Luddites, smashing digital devices with sledgehammers. But they are called to be faithful stewards of digital opportunities, even as they are also called to be faithful in all their relationships. That second stewardship is surely of greater importance than the first, argues American author Dr Albert Mohler.

The Campbell family of California just might be the prototypical American family of the future. Kord Campbell and his wife, Brenda, recently moved to the San Francisco area from Oklahoma, along with their two children, Lily, age 8, and Connor, age 16. They also came with plenty of digital technology - and they have acquired more.

The family is profiled by Matt Richtel in an article in The New York Times (June 7, 2010). As Richtel explains, the Campbells might not be just any other family in the neighbourhood with respect to their digital habits. Then again, they might be, after all. At the very least, they probably point to a new family reality that will become all the more common.

Kord Campbell is starting a software venture. And yet, his life is so filled with e-mails, text messages, chats, Web pages, and video games that he missed a crucial e-mail from a company wanting to buy his business - for 12 days. In Richtel's word, Campbell is struggling with a "deluge of data". More alarming than that, his family is drowning in the deluge as well.

As Richtel reports: "Even after he unplugs, he craves the stimulation he gets from his electronic gadgets. He forgets things like dinner plans, and he has trouble focusing on his family."

"This is your brain on computers," Richtel asserts.

Scientists are beginning to document the effects of digital exposure on the brain. They are finding that every-thing from phone calls (remember those?) to e-mail and text messages exacts a toll on the brain's ability to concentrate and focus. Furthermore, they have identified a physiological reward for digital stimulation - a "dopamine squirt". That little squirt of dopamine in the brain serves as a physiological pay-off for digital stimulation, and it can be habit-forming.

It is for Kord Campbell. This husband and father admits to being often unable to focus on his wife and children and their family life. He goes to sleep with a laptop or similar device on his chest. When he awakens, he goes directly online, where he remains throughout the day. During family time, he often retreats into his digital world. He has left family outings to play video games and check his digital gadgets. Brenda laments, "It seems like he can no longer be fully in the moment." When he tries to unplug, he becomes "crotchety until he gets his fix."

And yet, rather than attempt a move out of such digital dependence, Mr. Campbell seems to be drawing his family members into the digital net. Brenda checks e-mail about 25 times a day, sends and receives text messages, and is getting more involved on Facebook. Connor, age 16, is becoming so involved in the digital world that his grades are slipping. Lily, age 8, has only one hour of unstructured time each day, and she often devotes that hour to digital devices. Connor apparently has a computer with Internet access in his bedroom, along with his iPhone. When he studies, an inner voice seems to call out to him to move instead to a digital distraction.

The Campbells may be atypical in the extent of their digital entanglements, but new research indicates that they are probably not as atypical as we would hope. Richtel reports that Americans in 2008 consumed three times more daily information than in 1960. Those who use computers at work change windows or screens an average of 37 times an hour.

The change in human experience is so vast that Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, names it one of the most significant shifts ever experienced in the history of humanity - and one with inevitable consequences.

What about multi-tasking? Many people claim that exposure to digital technologies prompts the development of a new mental skill, managing multiple mental tasks. As it turns out, multitasking seems to be more of an illusion than a reality.

Richtel reports that brain researcher Eyal Ophir of Stanford University has found that multi-tasking actually takes quite a toll on the brain's ability to concentrate on anything. Furthermore, research also suggests that multi-taskers have a very difficult time turning that mode of thinking off - a fact that goes a long way toward explaining why some people cannot handle real-life face-to-face conversations.

In an accompanying article in The New York Times (June 7), Tara Parker-Pope asked a chilling but revealing question: "Has the high-speed Internet made you impatient with slow-speed children?" Does that question not arrest you on the spot?

The research indicates that people who are highly invested in digital involvements are less empathetic, less attentive, less patient, and less able to remember something as basic as a conversation.

Just imagine what all this means. While the average American is likely to express some measure of concern in light of this research, and while most families no doubt seek a life different from that described of the Campbells, Christians have to look at this picture with a very different and far deeper set of concerns.

Is that what we were created to be? Is this the purpose for which God created humanity? The Creator made us in his image, and thus to be relational beings. But this relationality is intended to be expressed first and foremost in relationships with human beings, and certainly not with machines.

A biblical understanding will also press us to identify the relationships of our greatest accountability - the relationships of marriage, family, kinship and congregation - as well as the relationships of greatest Gospel opportunity. When these relationships suffer due to digital distractions, we bear full moral responsibility.

The answer is not to throw away all the digital gadgets. The information revolution is here to stay, and it comes with great gifts as well as tremendous temptations. Christians are not called to be modern-day Luddites, smashing digital devices with sledgehammers. But we are called to be faithful stewards of digital opportunities, even as we are also called to be faithful in all our relationships. That second stewardship is surely of greater importance than the first.

This stewardship will require clear boundaries, honest self-knowledge and authentic accountability. Otherwise, you may well end up spending more time with your digital devices than with the people you love. Count on this ... they will notice.

Dr R. Albert Mohler, Jr, is a US writer, broadcaster and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance, available from News Weekly books. His blog is at: www.albertmohler.com

Hooked on gadgets and paying a mental price

Screens big and small are central to the Campbell family's leisure time. Connor and his mother relax while watching TV shows like Heroes. Lily has an iPod Touch, a portable DVD player and her own laptop, which she uses to watch videos, listen to music and play games.

Researchers worry that constant digital stimulation like this creates attention problems for children with brains that are still developing, who already struggle to set priorities and resist impulses.

Technology use is growing for Mrs Campbell as well. She divides her time between keeping the books of her husband's company, homemaking and working at the school library. She checks e-mail 25 times a day, sends texts and uses Facebook.

Recently, she was baking peanut-butter cookies for Teacher Appreciation Day when her phone chimed in the living room. She answered a text, then became lost in Facebook, forgot about the cookies and burned them. She started a new batch, but heard the phone again, got lost in messaging, and burned those too. Out of ingredients and shamed, she bought cookies at the store.

She feels less focused and has trouble completing projects. Some days, she promises herself she will ignore her device. "It's like a diet - you have good intentions in the morning and then you're like, 'There went that,'" she said.

Extract from Matt Richtel, "Hooked on gadgets and paying a mental price", The New York Times, June 7, 2010.
URL: www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html?pagewanted=all

An ugly toll of technology: impatience and forgetfulness

Some experts believe excessive use of the Internet, cellphones and other technologies can cause us to become more impatient, impulsive, forgetful and even more narcissistic.

"More and more, life is resembling the chat room," says Dr Elias Aboujaoude, director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford. "We're paying a price in terms of our cognitive life because of this virtual lifestyle."

Web sites like NetAddiction.com offer self-assessment tests to determine if technology has become a drug. Among the questions used to identify those at risk: Do you neglect housework to spend more time online? Are you frequently checking your e-mail? Do you often lose sleep because you log in late at night? If you answered "often" or "always", technology may be taking a toll on you. ...

It may be that the immediacy of the Internet, the efficiency of the iPhone and the anonymity of the chat room change the core of who we are, issues that Dr Aboujaoude explores in a book, Virtually You: The Internet and the Fracturing of the Self, to be released next year. ...

Some experts suggest simply trying to curtail the amount of time you spend online. Set limits for how often you check e-mail or force yourself to leave your cellphone at home occasionally.

Dr Kimberly Young, a professor at St Bonaventure University in New York, ... has led research on the addictive nature of online technology. The International Center for Media and the Public Agenda at the University of Maryland asked 200 students to refrain from using electronic media for a day.

"Texting and I.M.'ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort," wrote one student. "When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable."

Extract from Tara Parker-Pope, "An ugly toll of technology: impatience and forgetfulness", The New York Times, June 7, 2010.
URL: www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brainside.html

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