Bored? Connect with nature rather than risky gizmos

Matters come to roost when dangerous challenges are picked up by children

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Published: Wed 29 Dec 2021, 10:48 PM

We are all aware of social media “challenges”. Most seem harmless enough. The sari challenge, for instance. Or posing with your child for a ‘proud mommy moment’ challenge. Or the ‘what you cooked for dinner’ challenge. Then, there are the “tougher” versions. The headstand one. Or the ‘standing on one leg’ one. Some of us roll our eyes and label these “silly” and “attention-seeking”, but no harm done really. And then you have “death-defying” challenges, where foolhardy adults seemingly don’t care about putting their lives on the line for the sake of some virtual hurrahs.

Matters come to roost when dangerous challenges are picked up by children: with Internet access becoming scarily available to one and all (despite “settings” and “controls”), kids can easily jump onto bandwagons without realising how lethal they can be. And there have been countless such occasions.

Recently, a case came to our attention. A 10-year-old girl in the US asked Alexa for “a challenge to do” — because she was bored — on her Amazon Echo device, and Alexa offered her one: plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs.

Basically, she was asked to electrocute herself (luckily, the girl’s mother was around to save her from a potentially fatal ‘dare’). Later, it was found out that Alexa sourced the information from a site called, which, as it turns out, had put out a post talking about the dangers of such challenges. So obviously it was a case of an AI-induced extrapolation gone terribly wrong.

The episode is a cautionary tale. Of course, Amazon has taken “swift action to fix [the error]”, but the malaise goes way beyond that. Perhaps the strongest subtext of the incident lies in the line “the little girl was bored” and, therefore, looked at a device to help her snap out of it. No one can blame her.

Technology may be a great enabler, but it has also made the now-impatient human race — in hot pursuit of short cuts — rather unthinking. As we begin to believe that boredom, these days, can be dispelled at the click of a button or by rapping out an order to a gadget, we are creating an entire eco-system that feeds off that belief. As we get ready to usher in a new year, perhaps we could imbibe some lessons of thoughtfulness and mindfulness.

Let’s be aware exactly how much harm can be inflicted when we choose to always remain connected to gizmos — just because they happen to be convenient. Let’s form more connections with nature — and each other — instead. And realise that while challenges are fine, the ones real life throws at us do not have to be a result of virtual contests.

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