Techno-Dystopias Breed Children as Collateral Damage

small child with smartphone

There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users:’ illegal drugs and software. — Edward Tufte


We can no longer ignore the intricate interconnections between manufactured consent and climate crisis.[1]

Cracking the veneer of normalcy entails unflinching inquiry. Rilke writes: Don’t try to get to the answers too quickly…you have to live the questions more fully. By scrutinizing the twin narratives of carbon-myopia and digital empires,[2] we can begin to disentangle the interrelational roots of our ecological, health, and geopolitical crises. Our investigation of digital technology and its corporeal and global inflammatory impact must begin with everyday electronics: the harsh reality of the physical, physiological, and planetary dangers of smartphones is unfolding but remains woefully ignored.

Jean M. Twenge’s article “Has The Smartphone Destroyed A Generation?” in The Atlantic September 2017 addressed the insidious psychological damage produced by smartphones. Although it was an important addition to growing cultural criticism demonstrating dire consequences of our modern cyber-addicted world, the following research must be more aggressively addressed if we–parents, biomedical engineers, the media, general consumers, and professors[3] –are to more fully understand the insidious ramifications of ubiquitous electronics. It is urgent that we make strategic interventions in our tech-saturated daily lives.


Twenge’s introduction erroneously stated: “More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.” She statistically confirmed that smartphones and other mobile devices deteriorate mental health, then goes on to assert that the technology is physically safe. Among Twenge’s rationales for this misleading premise is the fact that, compared to previous generations, fewer young people are victims of automobile accidents these days, because they are at home with their phones rather than out driving drunk.

This is a patently false conclusion.

Technological-addictive behavior has instigated a national epidemic of inactivity. In 2012, The Lancet published “Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy.” Physical inactivity results in 5.3 million deaths annually, which makes it almost exactly as deadly as smoking. This statistic has drastically increased since Covid-19 lockdowns.

It has been repeatedly proven that the relentless presence of smartphones and other mobile devices are physically unsafe .


Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse. — Sophocles

The smartphone has become a universal fact of modern existence. Bridging the “digital divide” once served as a rationale to disseminate digital technologies across race and class borders. Given the rampant growth of Big Tech, we can move beyond that that illusion that access creates equality. We have enough “data” that demonstrates democracy in the form of equality-as-assimilation is actually a cognitive distortion that conflates access with empowerment.

The issue is not how much “easier” modern electronics make our lives; the issue is bioaccumulation—the cumulative deleterious impact of these devices on our bodies in terms of both physical inactivity and toxic electronic frequencies (see next Mother Pelican installment addressing EMFs).

When we are weighing the benefits and costs of 21st century mobile technologies, it behooves us to examine the multiple factors that compound real-world risks and dangers—the neurotoxic and cytotoxic synergies that comprise the toxic soup in which we all live.[4]

When we discuss the risks involved with mobile and other wireless technologies, we too often disregard the fact that a child’s growing body goes through rapid cell division—when DNA is most susceptible to mutation and carcinogenesis. We neglect this enhanced risk at the peril of our children’s health later in their lives.


The height of the brain’s cognitive and linguistic development occurs between ages three to five. The average five-year-old in the U.S. has spent 6,000 hours in front of a television, and screen time runs eight times higher among those who use mobile devices. As of 2014, on average children age two and under in the United States averaged three hours a day of screen time.[5] These staggering statistics are already outdated, and the percentages are exponentially increasing. Although screen viewing consistently fails to teach kids age two and younger simple imitation tasks, language learning and emotional learning as much as live interaction[6] videos like “Baby Einstein” are still incredibly popular.

The development of a young person’s limbic system—the brain’s image-making center—is drastically diminished when over half of their waking life is spent in front of screen technologies. The use of smartphones, computer video games, and other visual technologies stunts the neurological capacity of infants, babies and children, (as well as young adults and older adults), including their development of imagination, literacy, social, and motor skills. For example, when children see people hugging in front of them in actual three-dimensional space—specific empathy developmental neurons are fired. In contrast, when they see hugging on a screen, empathy neurons are not fired. Neuroscientist, Dr. Patricia Kuhl researches “social gating:” the hypothesis that social interaction , “social experiences are a portal to linguistic, cognitive, and emotional development”[7]

Grotesquely, there is an app for young people to learn empathy!

Additionally, technology that replaces physical contact, for example a smartphone used as a surrogate babysitter, has become a “digital pacifier that atrophies our own ability”[8] to parent our children.


It is the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behavior and perception that is the product . — Jordan Lanier, Founding Father of Virtual Reality, computer scientist

In his chapter “Conscious Parenting: Parents as Genetic Engineers,” epigeneticist Dr. Bruce Lipton reveals that visual technologies are epigenetic: they override our genetic make-up and can disable intellectual, emotional, and physical development.[9] According to data from the Nielsen Company, the average preschooler in the U.S. uses screen media five hours every day. In 2015, Common Sense Media released a study indicating that 39% of two- to four-year-olds and 10% of babies and 1-year-olds use a smartphone, MP3, or tablet.[10] Thirteen percent of two-year-olds can order their own apps, including tooth brushing and potty apps. In the past five years, use and dependency on digital technologies has reached epidemic proportions—particularly during our Covid-profiteering epidemic. The new iPotty used for potty-training includes a slot to hold an iPad that is attached to the portable toilet (see title image).

95% of children under the age of eight have their own mobile device.[11] As children age, they are exposed to more screens. In October 2019, a report released by Common Sense Media found that eight- to twelve-year-olds in the United States use screens for entertainment for an average of 4.5 hours a day; thirteen- to eighteen-year-olds use screens for an average of 7.5 hours per day.[12] These statistics don’t include time using screens for schoolwork or homework.


“Because the adult mobile phone market is saturated, children are the next target.”[13] Lucy Hughes, Vice President for Initiative Media and co-creator of “The Nag Factor,” proudly declares that Initiative spends $12 billion of media time to encourage children to ‘nag’ their parents into buying products such as video games. Initiative Media is the “biggest buyer of advertising time and space in the U.S. and in the world.” She continues, “You can manipulate consumers into wanting and therefore buying your products—it’s a game…[today’s children are] tomorrow’s adult consumers, so start talking with them now, build that relationship with them when they’re younger and you’ve got them as an adult.”[14]

Branding and advertising through constructed desire[15] are at the core of the “attention economy” exponentially advancing digital-extractive technologies. In our Distraction-Extraction conomies, our attention is the resource being extracted; our attention is mined through “positive intermittent reinforcement.”[16] For example, at Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, one mission is to generate an army of “Behavior-Change Geniuses.” Internet companies are conducting a “massive-scale contagion experiment.”[17]

Raising my ten year-old son in the United States (and fully supporting us while living far below the poverty line), every day I make the conscious choice to deflect my son’s exposure to ways in which this techno-driven plutocracy may impact him. Living my ethics includes my commitment never to own a smartphone, iPad, Nook, Kindle, (or for that matter, a credit card or a car). In contrast, petroleum-parenting, what I identify as the decisions parents make that overwhelmingly contribute to both environmental destruction and body-phobic institutional practices, is one of the propagating factors that must be directly challenged if we are going to intervene in this cultural fiasco and biological infiltration.


By insisting on the use of iPads, smartboards, and ChromeBooks starting in Kindergarten, while simultaneously reducing or eliminating recess and outdoor time, most contemporary educational institutions are rapidly stripping away children’s innate sensory and motor skills, as well as their immune systems.[18] According to a recent article in The Guardian, due to digital technology overload, doctors have found that many kids cannot even hold a pencil! Lanier declares: “We are lab rats.” However, more accurately and more horrifically, our children are lab rats for Big Tech (and Big Pharma [19]); our children become collateral damage.

It is critical that we examine the layers of underlying reasons that so many children are struggling in contemporary society, including extreme bullying, depression, sensory deprivation, vestibular-bulb malfunction, behavioral issues, and our virulent epidemic of obesity.

Today, about one-in-five school-aged children suffers from obesity.[20] Excessive screen time has been repeatedly linked to obesity; and, to not only severe depressive and anxiety, but an exponential increase in preteen and teen suicide.[21] Tim Kendall, former executive director of monetization at Facebook as well as former president of Pinterest claims: “these services are killing people and causing people to kill themselves.”[22]

Our epidemic of habitual inactivity is directly influencing the fact that children are less prepared to learn cognitive and social skills in class. Because of poor core strength and balance (due to underdeveloped vestibular and proprioceptive systems), as well as obesity, allergies, asthma, and numerous chronic physical disorders, children’s mental capacities are radically shifting. Tristan Harris, Former Design Ethicist for Google, Co-Founder Center for Humane Technology describes this calculated design technique that utilizes our neurology by implanting an unconscious habit in the brain stem that eradicates “kids’ sense of self worth and identity.” Myriad examples litter the internet—such as “snapchat dysphoria:” plastic surgeons’ new line of work reshaping peoples’ faces to look like their filtered selfies.

The reality of our distorted body-mind relationship is more apparent than ever before. It is essential to approach these concerns by examining the interrelated ways in which the following societal demands influence our minds and bodies: uninhibited screen technology, lack of movement indoors and outdoors, pharmaceutical and antibacterial interventions, malnutrition, and media/games that promote aggressive competition and entitlement—the institutionalized pressure for self-reliant “success” manifesting in our cult of individualism.[23] Loneliness is currently the most significant predictor of illness leading to death.[24] We must consider this fact when assessing the implications of spending millions more dollars on Covid-related online “remote learning” and panic-driven public health resulting in even more Covid-induced “deaths from despair.”

Social engineering, neurology, and the epidemic of individualism

Rudolf Steiner explored the dangers of technologies when they are devoid of socio-spiritual relationships.[25] If adults and children were taught that the nature of mechanical and electronic technologies imply a community of users, the concept of a single individual owning a vehicle, household appliances, tools, equipment, or even mobile devices would be antithetical to common-sense collaborative economics. Both single-use and single-user objects could then become a relic of the Anthropocene.

Steve Jobs once said that “a computer is a bicycle for the mind.” In the 1960s at NASA when African-American female mathematicians were identified as “human computers,” perhaps Jobs’ analogy was somewhat accurate. (Instead of digitized data that is recorded in binary code of permutations of the binary digits 0 and 1, also known as bits, they used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines). However, in our contemporary world, the opposite is in fact true. Harris explains: “We have moved away from having a tools’-based-technology environment. …Social media isn’t a tool that is just waiting to be used, it has its own goals and it has its own means of pursuing them by using your psychology against you.”

The neurological reward pathway implicit in digital-technologies’ continual dopamine hits are regrooving our neuropathways. Our brains our incredibly malleable; rewiring of the brain is a result of neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to reorganize itself as a result of external input. Sean Parker, former president of Facebook, unequivocally states that internet companies are “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” Our own neurotransmitters are the new frontline soldiers in the war against ourselves. This cortical remapping takes Foucault’s “internalized fascism” to a whole new dimension…

In previous Mother Pelican installments, I have explored the intersection of greenwashing, whitewashing, and slowwashing. Now we must consider techwashing: new industries that attempt to counter the explicit and insidious effects of digital overload. Throughout the United States, technology-rehabilitation organizations are profiting from our children’s debilitated minds and bodies. For $60,000, screen-addicted teenagers attempt a three-month tech withdrawal in Mother Nature.[26] Such ludicrous band-aid “solutions” evade the root of our cultural crisis, and maintain the real “digital divide” between willful ignorance and collective will.

In my next Mother Pelican installment, we will investigate the electrical impacts of these addictions.


[1] See my previous Mother Pelican installmeny comparing our response to climate chaos with the Vietnam War and The Pentagon Papers during which Daniel Ellsberg exclaimed: “They hear it, they learn from it, they understand it, and they proceed to ignore it.”

[2] Conversation with Daniel Christian Wahl, Green Sabbath:

[3] I thank Dr. Carol Wayne White for her additional insights: “…many professors (and perhaps k-12 teachers?) are feeling the adverse effects in the classroom: short attention span; deteriorating thinking/critical skills; dulling of semantic memory, etc. (This brief list is based on anecdotal evidence, but there are numerous empirical studies out there that support such claims.)

[4] Cohen, Gary. “MacArthur ‘Genius’ Cleans Up Polluting Health Sector.” An interview by Steve Curwood. In Living on Earth, Public Radio International’s Environmental News Magazine , October 9, 2015. Accessed April 6, 2015.

[5] JAMA Pediatrics , Vol. 173, No. 4, 2019.

[6] American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 48, No. 5, 2005.

[7] Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, “The First Year,” National Geographic, January 2015, 39. See also Barry Sanders’ A is for Ox: Violence, Electronic Media and the Silencing of the Written Word .

[8] Tim Kendall, “Social Dilemma.”

[9] The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles , Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2005.

[10] Vicki Glembocki, “How to Raise a People Person,” Parents , Jan. 2015, 50.

[11], 2021.

[12] The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2019.

[13] Dr. Devra Davis, “The Truth about Mobile Phones and Wireless Radiation: What We Know, What We Need to Find Out and What You Can Do Now,” Dean’s lecture, University of Melbourne, Australia, November 30, 2015.

[14] Cited in “The Corporation.” See detailed discussion in the Guide to reading Zazu Dreams pp. 6-7.

[15] See the Introduction in my Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, the Ob-scene .

[16] Joe Toscano, author of Automating Humanity and Former Experience Design Consultant at Google, cited in “Social Dilemma.”

[17] Shoshana Zuber cited in the 2020 Exposure Labs Media documentary: “Social Dilemma.” Zuber warns: “We can effect real world behavior and emotions without even triggering the user’ awareness. They are completely clueless.”

[18] Children’s Defense. “The State of Black Children in America: A Portrait of Continuing Inequality.” March 28, 2014. Accessed April 22, 2015.

[19] See my “Decolonizing Our Wombs: Gender Justice and PetroPharmaculture,” in Women, Violence, and Resistance, edited by Hagar Ben Driss and Meryem Sellami, University of Tunis, Tunisia, pp. 2-24. In addition to newborns of all races, Black Americans have been repeated used in medical experiments such as the Tuskegee Experiment: Also see “Trace Amounts: Autism, Mercury and The Hidden Truth,” the 2014 documentary that explores (in addition to child populations) how historically US soldiers of all races have been specimens for the pharmaceutical industry.

[20] Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Lawman HG, Fryar CD, Kruszon-Moran D, Kit BK, Flegal KM, “Trends in Obesity Prevalence Among Children and Adolescents in the United States, 1988-1994 Through 2013-2014.” JAMA, 2016. 315(21): p. 2292-2299.

[21], 2020. See also Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

[22] “Social Dilemma.”

[23] See “Epidemic of Individualism” in my Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Ob-scene, State College: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013.

[24] See Dhruv Khullar’s “How Social Isolation Is Killing Us,” New York Times, December 22, 2016: Note: the article was written three years prior to Covid lockdowns.

[25] Social Three-Folding and civil society: Education as cultural power, Bo Dahlin, Rudolf Steiner University College, Oslo, Norway.

[26] See also the 2014 documentary “Love Thy Nature.”


Previously Published on Mother Pelican


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