Monday, January 15, 2018

Device and Conquer

         “In my day we had two tin cans and a string,” Reuben, 83, said. We were discussing electronic devices for children.
         “I tried those,” I said, “but the service was always down.”
         Reuben and I met at the local Coffee Bean and bonded over my dog, Joey. He’s there every day and I’d seen him either snoozing in the corner or talking with other old guys. One day, I tied Joey up to a meter and went inside to order my double cappuccino. He started to bark. Came outside to find Reuben feeding him something he'd dug out of his pocket: cookies and chips. Joey was captivated.
         We three sat on chairs outside and got to know each other. Reuben is from Romania. He’s been here 48 years and has two adult children living in Calabasas, a 45-minute drive which he can no longer do. His daughter brings the grandchildren over, which used to delight him. They'd play games, run around the yard. Now 9 and 11, they're only interested in their smartphones and don't interact with him.      
         I see very young children with these phones and even toddlers being pushed in their strollers with a smartphone or an iPad attached for their viewing pleasure. This is not a recent development. Thirty years ago I was horrified when a pediatrician friend hooked up a video player in her minivan for a road trip with her two kids. Two years later you could buy a car with its own screen. No "are we there yet?" for those parents. During that same period, I bought Suspense radio shows on cassette and played the stories on a drive to Utah with my sons. They had to use their imagination to visualize the scenes. When I pulled over for gas, they asked me to keep playing the tape.
         I’ve read complaints dating back 60 years about the corrupting influence of watching too much TV. True, our black & white TV was a babysitter of sorts. But we only had three channels in Santa Fe and at least two of them stopped broadcasting by 10:30 p.m. My mom worked nights and I waited up for her. I was forced to pick up a book and read.
         Posted an abbreviated version of this piece on Facebook for discussion and got a variety of responses. Here are three of the best:

“We have two grandkids the same ages. If I don't play their video games or can talk them into going for a bike ride, I am just an old adult, Grandpa, who they have a hard time relating to. The question that I ask is not, "When is introducing the 21st century tools too early?" Now I ask, "How can I interact with them and have us all engaged?” Mushroom Montoya.

This how we end up with a ‘media mogul’ as president!” Tom Pa

“It's the future get used to it. Human/machine integration will be commonplace.” Carlos Encinas


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