Like many of us (or is it just me?), I have a complicated relationship with technology. It’s part infatuated-with-these-toys and part sad-to-lose-the-simple-past. The infatuation part comes in many forms. There’s the iPad with that really cool drawing game (which I stink at, but love to watch G and her artistic brother play), and the sleek, slick, dope…I mean user friendliness of my iPhone, whose sophistication far outweighs mine. All iThings are kind of like my brain; I only use 10% of their capacity, which seems to get me by just fine. This human hasn’t evolved at nearly the pace of my electronic devices; it’s like the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, only in this case, I’m a little eager to remain below the poverty line. What’s that about - my appreciation for things slow, quaint and clumsy; sappy nostalgia; a general resistance to change; all of the above?
Then, there’s Facebook, a conflict about which rages in my bones. On one hand, the ability to find out what the kids I built basement forts with 35 years ago watched on TV last night is incredibly impressive. On the other, I feel myself developing some kind of hybrid anxiety/hypertension/acid reflux condition when I see daily minutia posted by people from all walks of my many years. It feels like some kind of icky marriage of convenience between “This is Your Life” and our 24-hour news cycle. For a reason that the active 10% of my grey matter isn’t capable of crystallizing but my palpitating chest knows to be true, I’d like to see us with a little more book and a little less face.
Getting back to the reasons for my technology based love, one very important one is that my kids’ unabashed passion for their electronics (no internal conflict there) gives me leverage. When Blue commits a heinous act, I now remove his access to all things beeping and buzzing for a week. This includes no small conglomeration of gadgets. He has an iTouch, headphones, one-fifth of a computer, one-fifth of an iPad, a cell phone and, of course, video games. When I was his age, I was begging my parents for Atari so I could play Space Invaders and not succeeding. The first time I stripped Blue of his electro-identity, I literally thought I saw his carpals crumble. How would he occupy his fingers, let alone his 10%? He had no idea what to do with himself. Zero tolerance for a day without a screen. He stood lost and confused in a house full of puzzles, books, markers and games. I even offered to play Sorry with him (hoping the sentiment would seep through), but no dice. Somehow, as a surprise to both of us (a pleasant one for me), he survived the lengthy deprivation. I’ve had to impose this drastic sentence a few times and now, when Blue derails, I don’t have to say a word. He simply hands me his phone, his iTouch and his spirit, which I don’t see as much as a triumph over electronic dependence as evidence that Pavlov knew his stuff.
Another source of love is these toys do cool stuff. There’s no denying it. They’re fast with incredible graphics and thanks to Camwow, my boys can take a lovely picture of me where my lower lip eats my entire head. I also enjoy being almost caught up with what the kids can do. All five of them, starting at age eight, manage to stay a step ahead, beating me to knowing the latest Top 40 song or app, but if I have a toy or two in my possession, at least I’m in the race. Sometimes, I even like the distance imposed by emailing or texting. I can be in and out and short and sweet without getting involved in a phonecall for which I have no time…something my phone obsessed fourteen year old self can’t believe I’m saying, but that Red, the fourteen year old in my house, would think of as perfectly normal. I’ve never heard her up late on the phone or seen her twirl the chord as she lies on her bed talking about the boy she likes. She texts or she Facebooks (thank goodness, though, the teenage girl sleepover lives on!). I never think I have time to catch up over the phone, but when I do, I must admit, it feels good to bring the conversation live – if not actually face to face, at least with voices and inflection.
Now, to why these machines make me crazy. They’re everywhere, all the time, causing neck and fingertip injuries worldwide due to young (and formerly young) people’s inability to exist for long without looking down and pressing buttons. Another thing. They’re great until a new version comes out and they’re not great anymore. When Blue and Lashes entered middle school last year, we got them cell phones – more as a matter of safety than anything else. They were going to be walking home from school and we wanted them to be able to reach us. They loved their Samsung whatevers…phones that made a cool sliding sound and gave them the power to text. That was less than a year ago. Now, when Blue is with me and we drive past the Verizon store, he tells me he can’t look because the iPhones inside taunt him. What? I told him to sit tight, that I was 43 when I got an iPhone. He didn’t say anything, but he could have been thinking, “maybe when you’re 50, you’ll know how to use it.” He’s offered many times to give me a tutorial, perhaps in the hopes that I’ll give up and say, “here, you take it – you’re much better at it than I am.” Not so, white man.
The other morning, a wonderful thing happened. I was racing around the kitchen getting it all done before school and I was suddenly aware of a stunning and unusual silence around me. No ESPN on television. No ESPN update dings coming through on Dimples’ iTouch. No whining or complaining. Just Blue, eating his eggs at the table while reading a book. A BOOK! It wasn’t his, it wasn’t age appropriate, but so what. I don’t know what brought it on and it hasn’t happened since, but for those few glorious moments, my device-addicted, literary-resistant twelve year old chose to avail himself of the simplest, quietest, most rewarding pastime, the one that makes the best use of his 10%. Take that, Siri.
Liz Kingsley lives in Westfield with her girlfriend and their five children. During the day, she teaches Special Education and Basic Skills at a local elementary school, writes poetry and columns about her family, and directs The Writers Studio. At night, she collapses from exhaustion.
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