Black Boys in Crisis: The Technology Vortex

In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.

One of the most drastic changes in the last two decades has been the digital revolution. This has transformed the American economic landscape, leading to an explosion of jobs in the digital sector and wonders such as the Internet and smartphone. However, though the Internet has certainly improved the dissemination of information, the digital revolution has also had a detrimental effect on intellectualism. I am not one of those who decries video games because of the violence, racism, or sexism they often perpetuate, though these are troublesome. After all, there seems to be little evidence to support the correlation some make between video game violence and violent actions. However, as with sports and the entertainment industry, video games can be such a time suck that they leave little room for reading and study.

As Susan Jacoby notes: “In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book—fiction or nonfiction—over the course of a year.” She continues: “The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing, and video games.”

Video games, the Internet, and cell phone use offer instant gratification. They’re ridiculously fun, and unless their use is curtailed, they can become an all-consuming passion among young people. According to an influential Kaiser Foundation report, young people today spend an average of seven and a half hours on media devices—cell phones, computers, and gaming consoles—and that figure is rising. From the report: “A typical US child between 8- and 18-years-old is likely to live in a home equipped with three televisions, three VCRs, three radios, three CD/tape players, two video game consoles, and a personal computer.”

Significantly, the report notes that “African American kids are more likely than White kids to report bedroom televisions, DVRs, cable/satellite TV connections, subscriptions to premium TV channels, and video game consoles.” In other words, a black boy is more likely than a member of other groups to spend time in his room watching TV or playing a video game, rather than studying or reading.

Some may claim that the Internet can be educational and that cell phone use fosters communication skills; however, web surfing and texting are seldom used for educational purposes among black boys. They aren’t perusing the New York Review of Books or browsing Scientific American. The majority of their time online is spent on sites such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, and watching music and amusing videos on YouTube.

Black boys, like all kids, spend a lot of time using technology for entertainment purposes. The difference is, since black boys are already on the bottom of the totem pole, the abuse of technology impacts them way more than their peers. This is where parents come in. I am not saying that children should not be allowed to use technology for entertainment purposes, but I am saying that they need balance. Especially black boys.

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