“I’ve made a huge mistake.”
That’s what I’m thinking as Penelope cried out from the bathroom. “Puzzle daddy. Kitty puzzle. iPad!”
It’s my fault. Penelope was sitting on the can one day when I decided to download a toddler puzzle to my phone. Minutes later she was clicking the pieces in place. She doesn’t like to stay on the toilet. With iPhone in hand I couldn’t get her off of it. To compound the problem I let her do puzzles each time she went to the bathroom. Soon going potty had less to do with relief and more to do with recreation.
It wasn’t Penelope’s first exposure to this kind of technology. We had an Android tablet with us in China. I downloaded a few puzzle and painting apps for her to play with. Penelope had little interest at the time (nearly a year ago!). I was surprised and pleased.
Who of us hasn’t heard stories about children being completely disconnected from their families because of technology? Anyone who’s seen “This is 40” remembers the conversation about “banning technology” at the dinner table. Or how the older daughter goes ballistic when her laptop is confiscated, prohibiting her from binge viewing “Lost”
I read an article about a family constantly on their phones, laptops, tablets, or gaming devices. The parents lamented the lack of connection with their children. I don’t think the children were the problem in that family. Parents have to disconnect from their devices if they expect their children to do the same. As the technology gets better it gets more difficult to pry the smartphone away from our hands. (Just think Charlton Heston – “From my cold dead hands!”) It will be my responsibility to keep electronics out of sight at dinner or during a conversation. It’s not Penelope’s responsibility to say “Dad, put your phone away!” I’m not claiming sainthood when it comes to this. If I had a penny for every moment I checked my email I could quit my job.
When I realized Penelope was addicted to the “puzzles” and “kitty” I cut it off. When it was potty time and she would say “daddy, get phone” I started to say “no”. She protested and cried the first few times. Now when she asks for puzzles in the bathroom I redirect and get a book or learning activity that doesn’t require batteries.
(I wonder if the spread of the printing press led to parents being agitated with their children “reading all the time” instead of doing their chores or milking the cows. Did those parents cry out centuries ago “Curse you Gutenberg!”)
I shouldn’t have this love hate relationship with technology. It is my bread and butter after all. I’ve worked in technical support for a decade. I enjoy geeky things like building computers and finding new programs to do some menial task a little better. Yet I don’t want Penelope to get too involved. Not yet anyway. I want her firmly grounded in the printed word, playing with dolls, getting hands dirty in the garden, or covered in flour while baking. Because as much as I love technology I’ve found it very easy to get lost in it.
By the time Penelope is the age I am now the question won’t be “how does technology fit into our lives?” but “how do our lives fit into technology?”. Remember the movie “Minority Report”? A lot of the technology in the film came from Steven Spielberg’s group of consulting geniuses who saw where technology was headed.
My “ah-ha” moment happened the evening the Godfather recommended we watch the documentary Transcendent Man, a documentary about Ray Kurzweil’s belief that technology is advancing so quickly that within 25 years the Singularity will occur; human and machine intelligence will be indistinguishable. Kurzweil sees the prospects with rose-tinted glasses while other scientist and technology writers claim it’s more likely humanity finds itself at war with technology. (Like “The Terminator” without time travel. Just google “Terminator Scenario” for some light reading) Once machines become self replicating, able to learn, and self aware, who knows what we’re in for?
Kurzweil’s goal is immortality. He takes more pills than you would think humanly possible trying to stay alive until his consciousness can be downloaded. Yep, you read that right. The day is coming when downloading will take on a whole new meaning.
Before we get to the point of a digital brain dump will we be able to “learn” things with the click of a button? Speak a new language without studying? What would it do to our concept of school? Will classes become sessions where our minds are filled with information and we take “breaks” to keep from going into overload? It gives “The Matrix” a new dimension.
I’m not eager to accelerate Penelope’s immersion into the digital realm. There will be time for computers and smartphones and whatever the next technology will be. Attempting to stop it would be futile as the Borg say. My goal is to follow a “controlled release”, introducing her to bits of technology from time to time. (I’d really like to get these next.) It’s probably naive and impossible but hey, most of parenting is.
So what technologies do you allow your children to have? Do they know how to use your computer or iPhone better than you?
Trailer for “Transcendental Man”
For a peek at the technology behind “Minority Report” with one of the people responsible for it, watch this TED talk.