Brave new world for babies
- on February 28, 2011
It's a brave new world for babies. Technology that still knocks our socks off will be ho-hum for my baby, who will never know the difference.
My baby will never talk on a phone with a cord. The house I grew up in had two phones: one in the kitchen with a LOOOONNG cord, and one in my mom's bedroom. Later, we got phones in our own rooms, but not until we were in high school. We'd talk on the phone in the kitchen, stretching the long cord over the countertop and sitting on the floor where the tv watchers in the living room could see us or hear as well. He'll never have to worry about being able to have a private conversation, in fact, he won't have to talk out loud at all, if he doesn't want to. He can send a text.
And amazingly, he's already on his way to doing just that. My baby can use my Android. At 18 months, he's so savvy with the Android that he's no longer happy to just play with it while it's in "lock" mode.
He used to be content to drag his finger over the lock screen, lighting up patterns and pushing buttons that lead him nowhere. Until he realized there's more to the phone than just green and white circles. Now, if I don't unlock it for him, there's toddler hell to pay.
Of course, this is a very bad habit, and we are terrible parents for ever letting him touch our Androids in the first place, so let's just get that out of the way now.
But my point is that this technology is so intuitive, so user-friendly, that even my 18 month old child can scroll around effortlessly and open and close applications that delight his senses. It took me weeks to get comfortable using my smartphone, but my infant seems to have always just "known" how to pull down the top menu or push a button to get it to light up or return to the home page.
What will his life be like, then? By the time he is in high school, will he be searching for data via a chip in his head? Will his school desk have a touch screen imbedded in it? If technology is so good that it comes more naturally to us than learning to operate a spoon or use a toilet, I have to worry that it's going to take over in a way that isn't completely healthy. This, I suppose, is normal parenting anxiety. We don't know what we're doing, and unfortunately, with technology moving at the speed of light, we have no idea what it means for our children. There is no precedent, no conventional wisdom on which to fall.
Don't get me wrong, people. The internet is MY VERY BEST FRIEND. I am a social media addict, I love having information at my fingertips, I feel naked if I leave my phone in the car. But I have to admit that I miss the days of having to badger my brain for a bit of information. IMDB killed conversations about "Oh, you know, that actress that played the wife in the show that we watched in the '80's... oh, what was her name?" We watch Law and Order and say "where have we seen her before?" and rather than just waiting for it to come to us at 2:00 in the morning, we open a phone and look it up. Which is both awesome and terrifying.
What does this mean for our brains? I have to wonder if it means we use our brains less, leaving the technology to do the work for us. Or, is the technology freeing up useful space in our brains so we don't have to waste it on mundane things, and can therefore go beyond our old capabilies?
I read this article in Atlantic Monthly that touches in many ways on my exact concerns. And it addresses my concerns about my concerns. What I mean, is, I don't want to be a luddite who is always afraid of the new or a change. I realize that people long have resisted new technologies for fear of taking away something fundamental that we value. I had a friend years ago who refused to start doing email. He feared the lack of person-to-person communication would be detrimental to his relationships. And at the time, I said, "How do you feel about telephones?" Of course, he worshipped his cell phone. And I said "How do you think people felt at first about talking to someone they could not see?" History tells us it sent people over the edge. It freaked them out, they worried about their relationshps, and some flatly refused to do it.
So I get that no matter what comes along, we're prone to be a little skeptical. Still, I have to wonder how much is too much? How will my son's brain get the exercise it needs if he's plugged in at school, in the car, at home?
I am careful about TV. I let him watch half an hour of educational programming in the morning while I get ready for work. I sometimes let him half another half hour after daycare while he eats a snack. Is that too much? I don't know, but it works for us. This morning, I took my phone away from him, because he was obsessing. I knew I'd created a monster - one who can't ride in the car without messing with my phone. And I looked at the monster and saw my face. The face of a person who feels itchy if she doesn't check her Facebook several times a day and can't be bothered to look up a phone number in a phone book and has had to hide her phone in the back seat to avoid the lure of texting while driving.
I am not modeling great things for my baby if I'm sticking my nose in a laptop or picking up an Android to check something every fifteen minutes. And I'm not sure I'm doing myself any favors either. I have a hard time just watching a 30 minute TV show without wanting to "multi task" on the laptop. I think my brain is so full of quickly moving information that now it craves it. Is this good or bad? I don't know. But I have a feeling it's important for us to consciously unplug for a period of time every day, if not for our own good, for our childrens'.
On the other hand, I'm completely stoked for my baby to become a technology whiz because when I'm 80 I'm really gonna need him to come over and program my VCR.