The more we travel and the more I interact with kids of other families, the more I wonder whether we have a pocket of quasi-Luddites, veritable Amish families who are actually hurting their children by turning our collective backs on the marvels of modern technology and electronic gizmos.
From restaurants to hiking trails, us parents seem to be moving into our own bubbles with our cellphones, PDAs, portable Internet devices (read “iPhone”) and other gadgets. I do it too, I admit, with my Blackberry Pearl sitting on the table so I can keep an eye on my incoming email and, of course, chat with friends and colleagues if calls arrive. I try to step outside for any lengthy conversation and don’t talk on the phone if I’m with someone else, though.
But kids. We have always tried to keep them away from the lure, the digital siren song of modern gizmos. We have no video games, heck, we don’t even have a TV in the house any more. I am starting to wonder, however, whether we’re swimming upstream against an extraordinarily strong current…
As much as us adults enjoy our cellphones (does anyone nowadays drive without being on their cellphone?) seems like we’re breeding a generation of children who are just as into their own isolating gadgets, their Nintendo Gameboys and Sony PSPs and the like. With the convergence of electronics, in a decade a children’s handheld device will have GPS mapping, cellphone capabilities, always-on IM, MySpace (or its progenitors) and as many games as they can license for $0.05/play anytime and anywhere.
I don’t like them, even though I readily acknowledge that there are amazing games out there that let you immerse yourself in fantasy worlds that are fully realized and quite compelling, from the massively multiplayer worlds of World of Warcraft to the interconnected, pint-sized Pokemon villages to even the clunky lands of Second Life. If they had immersive “live like the pioneers” or “back to the medieval ages” or even “you’re an artist during the Italian Renaissance!” I might like them more, but maybe that’s my hangup.
Meanwhile, though, I can absolutely see how these gadgets are so darn compelling. Give any of my kids a Gameboy and they’ll be sucked in as quickly as any other modern children, able to bury their nose and unplug from the world around them for hours on end. And these games are brilliantly designed to be fun for even children who have no reading skill and are just poking at the screen and figuring everything out.
Which leads to my question: are we the lone holdouts from this brave new world of electronic childhood, of letting kids play video games, computer games, watch movies and DVDs on their own TV, of playing handheld games wherever and whenever they choose? Are we fighting this vaguely Sisyphean battle for naught?