Thursday, August 13, 2009

moral panic & children's use of mobile phones

Daleks are training the children, seducing them with mobiles phones and texting, it is a world wide threat, and resistance is futile. Here's the empirical evidence:
Todays headline catastrophises mobile phone use and texting comes from the Sydney Morning Herald, a Melbourne University study says

Text-addict kids 'make more mistakes'
The spin maintained pathologises the behaviours as addiction and as impulsive and associated with error.
Basically its bad.
And its the cell phone that's training them?
A study of 317 Melbourne high school students found frequent mobile phone users were faster to respond in a series of tests but also made more errors.

A bit more balance might have said, "when you do things faster, the error rate increases, risk and speed are not associated with accuracy".

Those who made 15 to 20 calls or texts per week were more likely to respond quickly before they knew the correct answer.

Does that equate with people who like to communicate in quick ways, with little concern for accuracy are likely to respond in quick ways with little degree of accuracy?
The research, headed by Monash University epidemiologist Professor Michael Abramson, found predictive texting, in particular, was changing the way children's brains worked by teaching them to act before thinking through a response.
Now hang on a minute, there's a behaviour being commented on and suddenly the ways children's brains work is being altered? I'd suggest no pathologist is able to confirm this.
Furthermore, there is nothing presented here that any such alteration is in a cause and effect relationship, its a correlation.
Radiation associated with mobile phones, a long-held health fear, did not appear to be to blame for the higher rates of inaccuracy in frequent phone users.
Monash University researcher Geza Benke said children who were heavy texters, and were exposed to low levels of radiation, had similar test results as those who made a lot of phone calls and were in closer contact with handsets.

Bit more catastrophising, a long held fear, plus there's the radiation threat...
"There's a couple of hypotheses you can generate from this - one is that it's possible that the use of mobile phones is training kids to do this," Dr Benke said.

"Another possibility is that it just so happens that kids who are fast and don't worry too much about the errors they make tend to be the ones who also are using the phone technology more because that suits them.
Ah yes, but that wouldnt be a headline lead would it?

"I think there are already so many other things out there that affects kids' brains that I wouldn't worry about the mobiles," he said.
"I think there's nothing here that would show great concern from a public health point of view."

So what is it with the headline?
Some reading to inform the current moral panic:
Marvin, C. (1988). When old technologies were new. Thinking about electric communication in the late nineteenth century New York: Oxford University Press.

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