Thursday, June 27, 2013

Times Trumpets Terror Of Technology

As Daddytypes notes, a writer at the NYTimes Magazine is apparently freaking over the impact television is having on his child. Ok, so its not television the author fears but a Kindle loaded with Angry Birds (as well as a seperate television) but still, is this 1985 all over again?

Hey look, his kids are obsessed with technology.  To which I say: Good.  They better be.  Because their jobs, livelihoods, leisure time and life will likely be technology focused.

I will say there is probably a big difference between his daughter playing Angry Birds and his son watching cartoons.  This is often part of the problem with “riffs” like this: they conflate technology into one big puddle when in reality each raindrop in that puddle is different and unique.  Angry Birds, for the two people out there who don’t know, is a nifty game involving thinking and physics and problem solving.  Television is more passive.  I’d take my kids playing Angry Birds over watching TV any day, but I’m not sure it’s the difference between becoming Einstein and becoming Lloyd Christmas.  Yes, Angry Birds/Kindle and TV are both technology.  But aspirin and crack cocaine are both drugs, too.

People have been lamenting the destruction technology will supposedly wreak on our society and world since before the printing press.  It hasn’t come to pass.  Speaking of printing presses, I’m guessing few people now have a problem with books, though people once hurled at them the same insults they now hurl at television.  Those who don't learn from history yada yada yada.  The NYTimes Magazine writer brags, while disclaiming bragging rights, that he doesn't own a television.  He doesn’t want the distraction; he doesn't want the time suck.  But I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that if his kids sat and watched a play or listened to opera for 2 hours he would be writing a completely different type of article.   With Luddites its always this way.  Kid spent two hours parked on his butt watching a a third-rate play, response: Yippeee; kid spends 1 hour  watching a better quality TV show like Mad Men, response: booo technology.  Yet the difference is… what exactly?  Is reading Stephen King really better than watching How's It Made?

But more importantly: what is not having a television doing to his kids.  Part of our work and social world is shared experiences.  We can all click "like" on those "Do You Remember ____ show" on Facebook.  Except that his kids probably can't.  And they can't even watch PBS to make up for it.  And why stop at television, since his big concern if "screen time."  Think its hard to get by in the world without having the shared experience of Sesame Street or Mickey Mouse's Clubhouse, try navigating the world without working knowledge of Twitter or Facebook.  Even the author admits he has had to take up Twitter to survive.

The NYTimes Magazine author himself notes that he is simply watching himself as a child, when he settled for electronic distraction to soothe his nerves or avoid tedium.  He paints a picture of heavy TV usage as a child; addiction even.  We know nothing about how much "screen time" his kids get..  Since the author says he limits the little ones' screen time, I'm guessing its not substantial. We also have no information on the more important question of what his kids do with their "free" time.  Given his portrait of childhood addiction to television I'm willing to assume he fears/thinks his kids would suffer the same fate as him.  But wait!  I’m guess he thinks he turned out OK.  

As Daddytypes notes, “we become our parents and our children become us.”  That is largely genetic.  We pass our intelligence and abilities on to our children, and those possibilities and limits are those forever.  Sure, we can foster a good, nurturing learning environment (more Angry Birds!) and that can help, but no amount of fostering raises a 90 IQ to a 120 IQ.  But when we become parents we  also tend to emulate the only real experience we have with the adventure: that of our parents.

On last point: The NYTimes Magazine writer laments the soon-to-be appearance of iPads in his child's elementary school.  “I find it more disturbing that a brand-name product is being elevated to the status of mandatory school supply.”  The reality has always been that schooling required some products, and most products are branded: To wit, who doesn't fondly remember #2 pencils (Ticonderoga!) or notebooks (Mead!) from their own childhood.  I remember getting copies of local and national newspapers (brand alert!) at school.  And what is a text book if not a brand?  

But while knock-off pencils or Trapper Keepers might be fine, there are good reasons for mandating a single type of tablet, from IT issues and support to app availability and cost.

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