Screen addiction

By Socrates

You moderns have interesting problems. I have now read that your young people are at risk of being damaged due to an addiction to video screens. As a humble and slow user of this technology, I find it astounding that addiction would be a problem. Surely people would prefer to talk with each other face-to-face, walking the city streets, enjoying the sun. But perhaps that is something that only we ancients enjoyed.

Yesterday I read an article about screen addiction. Yes, I did indeed read it on a screen. Perhaps I too am at risk of becoming damaged. The article can be found here: Screen Addiction is Damaging Children.

Now that you have read the article, wise reader, you will no doubt have identified some simple flaws in the reasoning as presented. Allow me to outline the main argument, including suppressed premises, as it appeared to me:

P1. (premise) If an activity results in frontal cortex impact similar to a chronic substance user, then it is addictive

P2. (premise) High screen-time children have frontal cortex impact similar to a chronic substance user

C1. (conclusion) Therefore, screens are addictive (from P1, P2)

P3. (premise) If screens are addictive, then for some people they become a high level use product

C2. (conclusion) Therefore, for some people screens become a high level use product (from C1, P3)

P4. (premise) High level of screen-time is correlated with ADHD and decreased ability to focus

C3. (conclusion) Therefore, some people will find their screen-time associated with their ADHD and decrease ability to focus (from C2, P4)

P5. (premise) Addiction, ADHD, and decreased focus is considered “damage”

C4. (conclusion) Therefore, high screen-time damages children (from C1, C3, P5)

A just society is certainly not a society that allows its people to come to harm, so we must analyze this argument carefully to assure ourselves that our actions are not harming our people. So let us, dear reader, identify any faults in the argument.

It appears to me that the first conclusion C1 does not follow deductively from the first two premises. Is it not possible for screen-children to have frontal cortex impact by co-incidence and not as a result of screen addiction? If indeed it is possible, then we cannot deduce from P1 and P2 that screens are addictive.

Furthermore, I cannot agree to premise P2 in its current form. Does the psychologist make the universal claim that all high screen-time children have frontal cortex impact similar to a substance user? Or is it just some high screen-time children? I wonder if we should adjust the first deduction to an induction:

P1. (premise) If an activity results in frontal cortex impact similar to a chronic substance user, then it is likely to be addictive

P2. (premise) High screen-time causes many children to have frontal cortex impact similar to a chronic substance user

C1. (conclusion) Therefore, screens are likely to be addictive (from P1, P2)

Is this a wiser way to present this part of the argument? Perhaps it is less definitive than the psychologist intended, but I believe it captures more accurately the uncertainty in reasoning by correlation.

Let us proceed with our examination of the original version of the argument by inspecting conclusion C4. It doesn’t appear to follow from C1, C3, P5. It depends on C3, which itself depends on premise P4. But P4 simply points to a correlation. A causal link may be likely, but it needs to be established if the definitive conclusion C4 is to be validly deduced. A better wording for C4 is: Therefore, high screen-time has been correlated with damage to some people.

As you can see, my wise reader, the original argument is faulty, though it is likely to be persuasive to those who do not have the time to make a careful examination. Nevertheless, the adjusted conclusions give us reason to look more closely at the impact of screen time on children. This is relevant because modern educators seem convinced that education must involve screens. The article addresses this very issue with a second argument, which I summarize as follows (including suppressed premise P1):

P1. (premise) Schools should only include things that improve student learning and do not damage children

P2. (premise) High-screen time damages children (conclusion from previous argument)

P3. (premise) High-screen time does not improve student learning (supported with OECD research)

C. (conclusion) Therefore, high-screen time should not be permitted in schools

This conclusion is not specifically stated in the article, though it is implied, and you will have noticed it emerges when we follow the logic. As you can see, my friend, this argument depends on premise P2, which was deduced from the previous argument. But we demonstrated this to be faulty so we shall now replace the premise with our new version:

P1. (premise) Schools should only include things that improve student learning and do not damage children

P2. (premise) High-screen time has been correlated with damage to some people

P3. (premise) High-screen time does not improve student learning (supported with OECD research)

C. (conclusion) Therefore, high-screen time should probably not be permitted in schools

Our revised argument is inductive. Its inductive strength depends on the correlation indicated in premise P2. I do not have the knowledge to determine the strength of the correlation between screen time and damage to people, so I leave this open to you, wise reader, to uncover for your self.

— Socrates

Filed under Articles, Socrates' Meditations