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We’ve all done it – the knee-jerk judgement passed on the person starting intensely at their phone at dinner, at a movie, among friends. And certainly, it is true that a substantial amount of our mobile activity is inessential at best, a waste of life’s precious minutes at worst. But too often these screens are treated as the enemy, and the often valuable content and interactions that take place on them goes utterly unacknowledged, particularly by parents and teachers.

Louie C.K., parent and caricature of the grumpy-old-man, succinctly and dramatically exposes this bias in a recent episode of “Louie”:

Of course we have to acknowledge that in “real life” it is more likely that a bit of texting would have at least accompanied her googling. However, we can’t utterly discount A) the expertise of “digital natives” and teens that allows them to effectively split their attention and B) the valuable learning and social interactions that take place on these screens, even interwoven as they are into the banal and superfluous. Furthermore, parents’ and teachers’ strategy of taking away the device does nothing to solve the much more complex and long-term problem of teaching kids how to use their devices to enrich their lives, rather than to distract.

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