Monday, April 15, 2013

Don’t worry – ever

Hanna Rosin has another programmatic article out in The Atlantic, “The Touch-Screen Generation.” It’s partly based on Rosin’s observation of her own kids growing up, and one could expect her to be slightly worried about all that touch-screening going on. This would only demonstrate, though, that you don’t know her. Rosin has opted to impose no limits on the use of touch-screen devices by her children. The younger one, her 4-year-ol son, is practically growing up with the technology, and she is happy that the tablet eventually became just a regular part of his toy rotation. Is Rosin’s blasé attitude evidence-based, a reflection of credible scientific research into the effects of touch-screen gadgets on the minds and brains of the young? Perhaps, since she quotes several researchers sounding progressively unconcerned as the article unfolds. I have a hunch, though, that her laissez faire attitude stems from something else – Rosin’s apparent inability to cringe from anything.

As I said, you must be familiar with Rosin, or at least some of her work, to appreciate the angle from which she is approaching the latest big issue. Four years ago she made, again in The Atlantic, “The Case Against Breastfeeding.” She argued that some insignificant benefits for the baby, like a slightly stronger immune system or higher IQ, should not be used as a stick to beat reluctant mothers into breastfeeding their babies (or by semi-reluctant mother to beat themselves).  She concluded that the only legitimate reason to make this sacrifice was that sensation of the “warm baby skin” against hers; and the thought that there was a limited window of opportunity for her to enjoy that feeling. Then, last September she lobbed another bombshell on the printed and virtual pages of her feisty magazine. In her much-discussed article “Boys on the Side” she argued that, “to put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture.” How so? By allowing young women to receive a superior education and kick-start their professional careers before they are dragged down by a husband and kids. Now, it seems, the increasingly ubiquitous touch screens are the next major phenomenon Rosin cannot generate much anxiety about.

There is, by the way, a new study of the use of all sorts of media by first-year female students at a campus in the northeastern United States. They logged on average about 12 hours per day. Among all the media varieties, only reading newspapers and listening to music were correlated with GPA in a positive way. If you ask Rosin, this would again be nothing to worry about, and no excuse for alarmist hand-wringing. Rosin, however, is not the most unanxious female journalist around these days. Out of the geeky circles represented by Jane McGonigal and her sister, that title should probably belong to Virginia Heffernan (who last year followed her heart from the NYT to Yahoo). So I am tempted to call this no-worry disposition the Rosin-Heffernan syndrome.