Screen Time

When I was a kid, my father brought home a plastic, toaster oven sized box with a small multicolored apple on the outside. I don’t know where he got it but that was our first computer. We were the first people on our street to own one (I should add though that there were 3 houses and a border patrol station on our road, so maybe not so significant). As I type, the watch on my wrist has more computing power than that Mac did. At that time, it blew our tiny minds.

Computer technology is now ubiquitous in our world. Schools are implementing computers and tablets faster than kids can break them. In a world with complete information access (for now), there is no reason for anybody not to embrace the power of technology available to us. My wife and I are raising our kids with computers. My 5 year old knows how to operate my iPhone. He understands the basics of scrolling through cat pictures on my laptop and can play games and type. His chicken pecking is at par with most 50 year old’s I know. I am confident that our children will enter the school system and embrace the worlds that technology opens for them.

With great power, comes great responsibility though. The power of being connected can lead us to a sedentary lifestyle. Yes, it’s cool that you can own a fridge that will tell you when to order more kale. But do you need it? Instead of using computers as a tool, many of the civilized world (if there is such a thing) rely on them to perform mundane tasks such as turning on the lights or distracting themselves from the everyday boredom that is so important for our mental health. We use tools designed to communicate with people across the world, to communicate with people sitting next to us. We sit and stare mindlessly at nothing for long periods of time instead of conversing with people sitting next to us.

Case in point,

Last week, Alaina and I accompanied our 5 year old to a doctors appointment. This wasn’t a normal pediatricians office so there wasn’t the normal sprawling of old toys and chewed books. After we checked in at the desk, Jude ran to the chairs and picked up a business magazine. I think he picked it up because he thought the picture of a pizza slice on the front meant it was a magazine about pizza. Sorry kid. He was happy to flip through it though, and look about the glossy pictures and text. Randomly he would spell out the words he knew.

“Hey Daddy! S-T-O-P means stop. Hey Daddy. Look, O-P-E-N. Is that “Open”?”

In walks another family and plops down next to us in the waiting area. A mother, a grandmother, a girl (about 13), and a son about the age of Jude. Immediately, all four of them drew a screened device from their pockets. SWISH! The disconnection from each other commenced. For a solid 10 minutes I watched the two kids trade between a Nintendo DS and a smart phone (not sure the brand). While the five year old burst out loudly every few moments, his counterparts couldn’t be bothered to look up from their own screens while hissing at him to be quiet.

All I could think of while watching them is “These are the reason people are saying technology is ruining the world.” They insist to be sucked into something instead of talking or even bother being a decent parent. These kids will continue to grow up without the human interaction they need and eventually they will become extremely ill adept at conversing with other people or doing simple tasks for themselves. Ultimately, they will become pawns in the advertising empire, empty vile’s to profit from.

Not My Kid

I am not perfect. Nowhere near it. I take my phone to bed and sometimes even fall asleep having the phone crack me in the face. Alaina has admitted to me that rather than doing something constructive with her time she will take those stupid Buzzfeed quizzes (“Make a sandwich, and we’ll tell you the perfect vacation spot”). We are trying to raise our kids with an awareness of technology, and the knowledge that they don’t need to use it as a crutch or a way to avoid human interaction.

There are moments in parenting when you know you do something right. As we sat waiting for Jude’s appointment, he never once asked to look at one of our phones. I was even proud of us for just being able to sit and wait and talk to each other. That’s the kind of relationship I want with the technology being served to us.

We all need to walk a fine line. How much do we rely on using technology for something we can do for ourselves? There’s no question that society gains when we implement new technology. What interests me and what bothers me, is what we lose every time we use a computer bought from a major corporation to turn off a light that we could easily flip the switch to (don’t even get me started on “passive listening” devices).

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