The fact is we all stare at screens more than we would like and many of us rely on these tools to communicate with others, even during times when we should be spending quality time with our families and friends. So does all this time staring at screens, which may take time away from looking at faces, change the nature of what we learn about the social world? Our study, at the Children’s Digital Media Center@LA, at UCLA, asked this question. We compared two groups of approximately 50 6th grade children each over a period of five days, one group had no access to screens of any kind, while the other did.
But how does one find young people willing to give up all media for a few hours, let alone five days (especially with no funding for the study!). We explored the ways we could guarantee that a large enough group of children would stop using media and found a simple solution. An outdoor education camp for public school children, the Pali Institute, came on as our partner. The camp director worked with us to make sure that during the 5 days of the camp, children had zero access to screens of any kind – no TV, no phones, and no computers. This meant that the kids at the camp could only talk to other people using the form of communication our species has used for millions of years – face-to-face.