I can remember it clearly, probably because it was repeated so many times.
“Tony, stop watching TV and go outside and play.”
I would look up in a zombie gaze and squint my eyes at the bright light coming through the window. I would reluctantly click off the TV. Open the door. Go outside.
Our family was not early adopters in technology. The Internet arrived late. We were always a few upgrades behind on our computer so that none of the latest games worked.
There were always too many drivers to install, and our system never had the latest Intel chip needed to run the graphics cards. I might be dating myself here, but I do remember the world before the Internet.
TV and videos game consoles were king for entertainment. While I was not allowed to watch shows like South Park at a young age, there was still plenty to consume.
Out of everything, I probably spent the most time watching The Weather Channel, letting the smooth jazz of the local forecast wash over me every 10 minutes, wondering why Jim Cantore was always standing in water up to his knees.
The parenting consensus was very clear though, kids were wasting their lives away with TV and computers. The best thing was for kids to go outside, use their imaginations, and play with other kids instead of zoning out on the couch.
Phones were so heavy that you had to tighten your belt to keep your pants from falling down. They could text but texts cost 10 cents each. Phones were for calling.
Flash forward to 2017 and now the roles are reversed. I am the parent and my son is crying for me to give him the iPad.
He is normally a chill kid who is happy playing with a piece of string. But once he gets sight of a phone or the iPad and he turns into a taut mass of screaming force that takes only a few seconds to break me. He is attracted to smartphones and tablets like barracuda to silver – with seemingly the same amount of teeth too.
I give him the iPad, and he sits in his chair, finds the right screen with his apps, opens them, and goes through all of the levels. He just turned 18 months old.
The apps are interactive; he has to drag shapes into their corresponding holes, or match the shapes of food to give to different animals.
It’s clearly different than sitting on a couch and melting away. The apps are not a passive experience. He’s learning something.
Clearly I’m not going to buy him his own tablet, but when we bought him the kiddy laptop that resembles a Tamaguchi more than a computer, he plays with it for a few seconds before dropping it on the ground and moving on to something else.
That makes sense, an iPad is way nicer, and even a toddler can appreciate that.
The old part of me from my childhood has the instinct of shunning technology. He should use his imagination and play with physical objects. He shouldn’t get sucked in and dependant on having technology stimulate him.
But is that feeling justified?
If I had grown up in a technologically advanced home, would I be a software engineer in Silicon Valley making enough money to live their comfortably and support an expensive outdoorsy hobby? Like paragliding?
Is the aversion to technology based on reason? In many ways, the answer is no.
But we must clarify the difference between TV and apps. He is too young to watch TV. Even watching a few episodes of Petit Ours Brun is too much for his attention span.
TV will come later.
Or will it? Will his sensibility to apps make TV too boring? Will he seek to engage with his digital enternatinment, the same way that he engages with his toys? And is that better than just zoning out and bingeing hours of Petit Ours Brun?
Technology is poised to evolve so much over the course of his childhood that it would be irresponsible to try to repress his technological literacy. Holding him back from technology on the grounds of it being “bad for him” could prove to be worse for him over the long term.
It’s impossible to predict just how far and in what ways technology is going to change and integrate into our lives.
So, despite the feeling in my stomach that putting the iPad down in front of him is bad, as long as he is using apps that are interactive, helping to develop his dexterity and problem solving skills, I believe that he should be able to use technology as much as he likes.