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Communications of the ACM

Economic and business dimensions

Potential 'Dark Sides' of Leisure Technology Use in Youth

youth on cell phone

Credit: Mike Shots

Computing technology has produced many societal benefits. Nevertheless, it often serves as a double-edged sword and promotes negative consequences, such as distraction, addiction, time waste, and reduced well-being.10 This is perhaps not surprising given that "When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck ... Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress."11 Indeed, many computing technologies follow this pattern, exhibiting a duality of "bright" and "dark" effects on people, firms, and societies.3,4 The problem is that the understanding of downsides of technology sometimes lags our understanding of upsides. We, especially technology enthusiasts, are often enchanted by the abundant positive things new technologies can do, and this dilutes our ability to develop reliable judgments regarding the harms new technologies can cause.7

While studies of both positive5 and negative9 technology effects on children and youth exist, trends in technology use among youth and their possible adverse associations are less well explored. It is important to examine and discuss such trends given the lack of regulation of technology use and the limited awareness to possible technology use harms. By contrast with other harmful materials and behaviors (for example, using illicit substances, consuming junk food, not wearing seatbelts), the use of computing technologies is largely unregulated and many parents and children may not be aware of the extent of harm that may be associated with excessive use of technology. Hence, analyzing such trends can serve as a springboard for initiating a healthy discussion in our discipline regarding possible "dark side" effects of computing technologies on youth, and more broadly speaking, developing a more balanced discussion regarding the effects of technologies on societies. Increasing awareness to such issues and sparking this discussion are needed steps before we mobilize resources and develop and test solutions for possible largely unexpected negative effects of technology use on youth.


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