I got into a nice conversation with Chan in HammerheadFistpunch’s post yesterday, How social are you? I sat down this morning to reply to Chan again, and ended up writing an essay on parenting and tech. I thought some might find it interesting, particularly Oppo parents.
My boys, particularly my soon-to-be-eleven twins (I also have a 14-y-o), are hooked on YouTube. If they had their way, they would keep their heads plugged into the computer all day long. Mostly, they watch videos of other people playing video games. I have trouble understanding this phenomenon. I suppose it’s like getting all the rewards of playing the game without actually having to put in the effort.
We finally had to ban them from computers/VGs during the school week. It wasn’t that they were on them too much as it was that we couldn’t get them to unplug. It was like taking crack away from an addict. They would throw tantrums and scream and yell at us. They finally got used to it and, in fact, one of my boys came to me soon after the ban was instituted and he said, “I’m glad you made us turn off the computers because now we can play football with our friends.” Now, when their friend comes over after school, they play soccer, basketball, hide and seek, water bottle toss, you name it. All the things that I think kids should be doing at this age.
But it’s difficult, because computers are to this generation of kids what TV was to my generation. Parents called TV the great babysitter, because they could plunk their kids down in front of the set and get some work done. Now, we plunk our kids in front of YouTube or VGs to get work done but, more often than not, the work we want to get done is updating our Facebook status. For me, it’s writing about aviation history for Oppo.
Last Saturday, I went to my boys’ soccer game. Sitting next to me was a mom with two kids, and her other son was playing in the game. The two kids wanted to go home, but she told them sternly that she was here to watch their brother play soccer. Then she proceeded to spend the entire time looking at her phone and berating the other kids for acting up. Had she engaged the other kids, watched the game, taken her nose out of her damned phone, she would have seen her son win the game and her other kids probably wouldn’t be acting up.
These handheld computer wonders really are fantastic. They give us information, help us communicate, entertain us. But they also obsess us. I think it has to do with the basic human desire to want something now. What’s the temperature? I can look it up now. What time is the game on? I can look it up now. I got a text? I have to answer it now. We don’t have to wait. So we sit at dinner with friends all glued to the phone, or we walk with our heads down looking at the phone. The handheld has allowed us to be connected to the entire world while being entirely disconnected from our neighborhood.
Sorry for the long essay. I got on a roll, but I too am struggling with technology, wanting to use it while wanting (and needing) to be free of it. It’s tough. It really is an addiction.
Illustration by Chris Ware