My nearly eight year-old daughter just phoned me at home. From my own cell phone. From the kitchen.
She actually walked from the kitchen to the laundry room (conveniently located beside the foot of the stairs, which is within yelling distance of me at present), rummaged through my purse to find my mobile, walked back to the kitchen, dialed our home phone number, and waited for me to answer.
To find out how to spell "spaghetti" for a homework assignment she was working on.
Which all reminds me of a debate that has been going on in my extended family recently, about the merits and perils of our technology-infused world. We’ve run the full gamut from doom-and-gloom predictions about the "now generation", to anti-Blackberry rants, to those of us who earn our living on the internet extolling the virtues of our virtual world.
And all of this stimulating exchange has taken place not in person, by telephone or by mail, but on a Yahoo Groups email list. That’s right, debating the merits of the internet on…well…the internet. How’s that for post-modern deconstructionism for ya?
But back to my little girl. When she was born, I would not likely have imagined that within a decade she would effortlessly operate a mobile phone, a satellite TV system and an iPod (iPods weren’t even invented then for Pete’s sake!). But the kid just takes it all in her stride…innovations are simply taken for granted and absorbed effortlessly into her OS, whereas I find myself sliding ever more surely into that cliché of the old fart whose VCR is constantly blinking 12:00. (Although in defence of all those poor moms and dads whose VCR clocks were not set [including, probably, my own], they may have simply been too overwhelmed with the day-to-day pressures of work, children, elderly parents, housework, etc. to bother setting the damn VCR clock! [See my own microwave clock, stove clock and car clock for examples of this phenomenon.])
I see now that what I first saw as strange and unusual (my daughter phoning me from 2 rooms away) is actually just typical childhood behaviour. How many of us remember getting in trouble for doing just what I expected my daughter to do: yell out instead of going to speak to someone face-to-face? So who’s to blame her for using my mobile phone to accomplish the same goal: getting an answer from Mommy without having to walk over to her?
As to the debate about technology: I stand by my position that it is a powerful tool, and as such must be wielded with respect and care, or it may harm us. But I have the benefit of knowing a world without the internet. I often say, "what did we ever do without the internet?" My kids, on the other hand, do not. They do not know a world where information (good, bad or otherwise) is not just a mouseclick away. My kids will never run out to the cornerstore on a Friday night to get the paper, thumbing through to the entertainment pages to determine which movie to go see: they’ll just look it up on their mobile web browsers. My kids will never hoist the brick of a phonebook and search for the number of that cute boy in French class: they’ll just text him. My kids will never collapse in tears and despair when they realize they stayed out late and missed the last episode of their favourite sitcom. They’ll just PVR the series in advance and — failing that — download it.
Having said all of that, some of the most wonderful playthings my daughters found on our recent family trip to Europe were acorns, seashells and rocks. So despite their ability to function effortlessly in a technology-infused world, they are still able to find joy and fun in the simplest of mother nature’s eternal toys:
So here it is. Love it or loathe it, technology is here to stay (barring some kind of apocalyptic EMP in which all machines built after 1979 will be destroyed. In which case I will fall back on my skills of knitting, soap-making and bread-baking. Whoever said hobbies weren’t useful?) In the end, we will all be the brunt of the descendants of the flashing-VCR joke of the 80s as our children inevitably overtake us with their hard-wired technological ken.
But for now, it behoves us all to remember that there is still an off button on all those ever more intelligent machines we own. Perhaps we should use it once in a while and go looking for acorns and seashells.