I’ve spent the last thirty years studying and writing about the relationship between people and technology. And I’m worried, particularly about kids. When technology plays an outsized role in children’s lives, they’re deprived of the crucial experiences necessary for healthy development and relationships. As I wrote in my book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age:
When children grow up with time alone with their thoughts, they feel a certain ground under their feet. Their imaginations bring them comfort. If children always have something outside of themselves to respond to, they don't build up this resource. So it is not surprising that today young people become anxious if they are alone without a device. They are likely to say they are bored. From the youngest ages they have been diverted by structured play and the shiny objects of digital culture.
That’s why I’m so happy to support the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. CCFC gives families the tools they need to resist digital culture’s shiny objects. From Screen-Free Week to the holiday toy season to their new Children’s Screen Time Action Network, CCFC helps families stay grounded and connected so that kids can grow up with the full power of their imaginations.
They also organize parents and professionals to stand up to the companies who put profit over kids’ wellbeing. Take the recent campaign against Mattel’s Aristotle, an Amazon Echo-like device for babies and young children.
I have long been concerned with issues of privacy online and the relational cost of sociable robots, and I was thrilled to see my research and ideas integrated into such an effective, strategic campaign. CCFC put my work alongside the voices of privacy experts, pediatricians, parents, and lawmakers – and together, we not only raised awareness about Aristotle, but successfully pressured Mattel not to release it.
In all of their work, CCFC doesn’t just name the problem. They do something about it.
With everything going on in the world, it might be easy to overlook the work of this small, hard-working nonprofit. But we can’t afford to. At stake is not only the immediate wellbeing of children, but the future of what it means to be human.
Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and the author of six books, including Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation. Her most recent piece on children’s relationships with sociable robots was just published in the Washington Post. Dr. Turkle is on the Advisory Board of CCFC’s Children’s Screen Time Action Network.