An emerging trend in the affluent bay-area communities amongst things like Soulcycle, and Kombucha, is directed at their children. The trend: reverting back to play-based preschools, with a focus on restriction or even complete elimination of technology. This trend seems to be extending all the way into the homes of these well-off families, including many C-Suite techies and “big-3” engineers attempting to protect their children from the perils of technology.
Up until recently, a common narrative when looking at the technology gap amongst youth was for those in low-income communities and their disadvantages due to too little technological resources. The fear was that these children would be left behind while well off-techy families would be gracing their children will all the skills they could ever need in our hyper-technological world. This still holds true in many ways. There’s a clear understanding that the gap in wealth equates to huge disadvantages in terms of future education and health amongst other things. In terms of technology in the United States, it’s estimated that 7 in 10 teachers assign homework online, even though one third of students (K-12) are unable to go online from their own homes.
An interesting solution for mitigating inequality in terms of access to technology arose in Utah—with the birth of the online pre-schools. The taxpayer-funded programme helped around 10,000 children across the state to learn and stay engaged via their own laptops. Not only is this programme a cheaper alternative to the more traditional preschools, but it offers a unique alternative to those children in remote parts of the state. The trade-off? Any real social or emotional learning experiences that students would develop from being in a physical pre-school. Technology, in this case, can provide a huge opportunity for those unable to attend physical pre-schools, but is it a viable option for those in less extreme cases? Unfortunately, for the time being, it seems unlikely. In Maine, a programme began that guaranteed a tablet for each student within its school system and according to NPR, while the investment in this programme cost $12 million, the state “has yet to see any measurable increases on statewide standardized test sources.” So with no real benefits yet, why else is there a trend for the rich to move away from technology?
A new narrative is emerging, one disclosing the factual issues behind increased screen time. Higher screen time has been proven to have many downsides, especially for children during their key years of development. More screen time is linked to higher rates of mental illness, increased risk of obesity and has been proven to have negative effects on a child’s ability to understand social cues which are nonverbal. Taking that into account, it’s important to understand that according to a 2011 study by researchers at Northwestern University, it’s become evident that minorities are constantly using their screens more than their white peers. It stated that Hispanic and black children watched on average 50 percent more TV than their white peers, while also using computers for up to a total of an hour and a half longer daily.
What’s almost most worrisome is that industry tycoons themselves are taking extreme measures to limit technology within their own homes. Tim Cook wouldn’t let his nephew join social media networks and Bill Gates banned cellphones with his own children until they were teenagers. Another warning bell rings from a group called Truth About Tech, comprised of former Google and Facebook employees whose sole focus is to push tech companies to make their products less addictive for the millions of children using them. Athena Chavarria, who heads Zuckerberg’s philanthropic foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative stated, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.” All of this leaves one with a very ominous feeling. What are they aware of that we aren’t? Why aren’t we as fearful as those heading these technological advancements?
The real problem is that for legislators, political figures, teachers and even parents, technology is sometimes a lovely and blindingly all-too-easy-solution. A solution for managing one’s children, a solution for quick or relevant homework assignments, a solution that addresses many of the problems that exist in the modern day world. As with most things though, the answer to real lasting changes and results is almost never simple and our ignorance in recognising this truth will have potentially horrible results on millions on children around the world for years to come. This is of course unless they’re lucky enough to afford the luxury of human connection, hawk-parents with tech-restrictions and trendy “throwback” daycares.
Shakerah Penfold has created something I haven’t seen before. As the uncertainty of our times is caused by a myriad of factors—be it unprecedented Brexit proceedings, politicians showing their prejudice across national TV or the rise of hate crime towards minorities—this hostile air can make communities feel polarised and divided. The @AskAPoC Instagram account is a space on the internet where that gap shrinks. This account is where you can ask a question regarding race or stereotypes and be answered by Penfold and the @AskAPoC community. And all it costs is one British pound.
Screen Shot magazine sat down with Penfold to discuss how in an era of being either ‘cancelled’ or ‘woke’, asking unfiltered questions works.
On a daily basis, Penfold works performs a charitable service by pairing vulnerable people with volunteer opportunities. The founder of @AskAPoC describes herself as not having a penchant for long walks on the beach, but one for dismantling racial stereotypes and “fighting the patriarchy before breakfast”. A southerner “lost up North”, Penfold was inspired to create @AskAPoC when she saw a @trueblacksoul post asking white people to ask a question that they have always wanted to know the answer to. Realising this could be a regular conversation and somewhere she could direct people in her workplace (especially when they asked her 21 questions about her hair), @AskAPoC was born.
“So it’s a pretty basic concept whereby curious people can send a question anonymously to the page and it’s answered by myself, and/or the community that the question is aimed at,” explains Penfold. Those who want to ask a question, have to first donate to the charity founded among Penfold and her friends called Food For Thought SL. The money from platforms such as @AskAPoC goes to building sustainable development projects in a village called Robuya in Sierra Leone. After the money is donated, you can then direct message the account and Penfold will share the question and her answer and then give it up to the floor (the @AskAPoC Instagram community) to chime in as well.
Though the questions are largely asked by white women and answered largely by women of colour, the audience for @AskAPoC is diverse, and Penfold and her team don’t know what the race of the quizzers are unless their question reveals it. Was she afraid of creating an echo chamber with her views front and centre? “I wish!” says Penfold over email—I can almost hear her passion over Gmail. “The page is called @AskAPoc, meaning that only people of colour need to answer. However, we still get a LOT of non-people of colour answering and taking up space so there are no chances of an echo chamber.”
With accounts such as @AskAPoC, it’s important to remember that people of colour as a whole are not a monolithic group. Even the phrase ‘people of colour’ is debated on widely, as it implies that white people make the norm and everyone else the are ‘others’. “In fairness, even without that input, people of colour are all raised in different societies and cultures so there’s always conflicting answers. I say go with whichever answer feels right to you,” adds Penfold.
Having experienced racism in the past, and having had to explain why macro and microaggressions are not acceptable for Z, Y, and X reasons, I know the emotional toll racism can take first hand. Therefore, discovering @AskAPoC, I initially thought it’s only fair that the minimum should be to donate to a charity first. But then I thought, why is it always the work of women of colour, and especially black women, to undo ignorance? The intellectual, social, and mostly emotional labour Penfold and her community do regularly is not a small task, especially as the @AskAPoC community grows.
“Sometimes it feels emotionally draining, especially when non-people of colour are in the comments trying to justify or push their own agenda,” says Penfold when I ask if this all feels too heavy to carry. The founder also mentions how yes, there are frequently asked questions that are disheartening such as “Why can’t I wear my hair in braids?” and “Why can’t I say the N-word?”. “However, it’s always balanced when I get emails saying how much someone loves the page and how much they have learned from it”. What Penfold really teaches through @AskAPoC is to spot the intention behind a question. Not all of us live in cosmopolitan cities nor do we all have the same experiences; therefore, being considerate within the @AskAPoC community is imperative, and it works both ways.
It’s also a space to understand how valid black and brown reactions are regardless of the intent.
I don’t believe that people of colour can undo a systemically racist system that continues to undervalue us by the spreading of information only, especially if those stories fall on defensive and deaf ears. Nor do I think we should expect that this is a task for people of colour to undertake on their own. However, what accounts such as @AskAPoC do is allow an open conversation to take place, and, essentially, share hope in what can feel like dire times.
Though black and brown bodies and minds have every reason to be angry at the mistreatment of their communities, their marginalisation also tends to evoke profound compassion, knowing what it’s like to be pushed aside. It’s this empathy that has taught Penfold and her community so much about humanity. “People are so willing to be educated and people like to help others learn. I think that’s beautiful, especially in the world we live in. I love how a community of people of colour who may have faced so much ignorance in their lives have not hardened their hand, but draw on those experiences to try and stop it happening to their fellow sister or brother.”