Does anyone else get just a little bit baffled when they realize we're only a couple years from Marty McFly's super futuristic adult world and some of the stuff they have in that world is not that far-fetched anymore? It's happening so fast, it seems. Even in the short lifetimes of my children, so much has changed in the world of technology and how it influences our homes and families.
When my oldest was old enough to start learning how to put on her own movie or TV show while I was cooking dinner, she just had to learn to turn the TV to a particular number or push a cassette into the VCR. Yes, we had a DVD player by then, but our VCR still worked and we still had most of our movies on video cassette. In fact, in the days before complicated menus and scrolling, it was simple enough that she learned how to do it by the time she was about 4 years old.
We recently canceled our cable TV service. We only had the basic networks anyway and it hardly ever got used. The cable company tried to convince me that $6/month wasn't much money, but when you add up $6/month for a year, that's more than an entire tank of gas. If someone walked up to you and handed you a gift card for a free tank of gas in exchange for something you didn't need or use, you'd take them up on it in a second. We do most of our watching on Netflix and the network websites. So we got a good deal on a Roku player. It has taken me weeks to explain to my 6 year old how to use it. My little guy, at 4 years old, isn't quite reading yet and therefore has to rely on the mercy of his sisters to help him. Today, I had to explain to the 6 year old how to switch the TV from the DVD to the Roku. I'm not convinced she got it yet. I'm not sure my husband even knows how to do that yet.
I got an iPad for my birthday: best birthday present EVER. My little son who has never known a world without touch screens and smartphones integrated it seamlessly into his world and frequently picks it up and starts playing Curious George games on it (icons are helpful when you can't read yet). My 6 year old basically ignores it. She doesn't dislike it, but it's not unusual enough that she's taken by it. My 12 year old still thinks it's a little bit mystical. She realizes how cool the technology is because she's been through several large computers with us and learned how to use a computer in the days when you still needed a mouse. (I still like to pretend I'm on the Starship Enterprise when I use it because it's something straight out of a Sci-Fi flick. I also still call my Kindle the "magic book.")
My oldest child still knows what a CD is and how to use one. The younger two children think I can magically make my phone/laptop/iPad play any song they want in a matter of seconds.. . which I can, but they don't understand yet that if I spent $0.99 every time they wanted me to do so, we wouldn't have any food in the fridge. When my oldest wants to listen to music, she frequently turns on a CD or the radio. When my younger ones want to listen to music, they go to the TV and turn on Pandora. They even figured out (using the elder's reading skills and the junior's "nothing is impossible" attitude) how to set up their own kid-friendly radio station on our Pandora account.
My older daughter knows how to dial a telephone. My 6 year old knows how, but she has to stop and pause to really think about how to do it. Hand her my smartphone, however, and she navigates perfectly to the picture of Daddy on the screen and calls him up. Even the 4 year old knows how to call Daddy or Grammy on the cell phone. When they want to have a long-distance conversation with Grandpa? We dial him up on the iPad via Skype and they don't think anything of it that they can carry on a face to face conversation with someone 3 hours away. I still get a little weirded out by sitting in my dining room and having this thin little window through which I see my Dad sitting in his dining room. (Pretending I'm in "Back to the Future" helps me overcome the mindbending nature of this.)
Because we don't want our children to go entirely digital and loose touch with reality, the technology use in our house is purposely going in both directions at once. Obviously, there is alot of good in technology and we are fully willing to embrace that. At the same time, when everything is surreal, unouched or at our fingertips, there is a bizarre numbing effect on our hearts, bodies and minds. My husband and I make an effort to make sure our children understand the value in the world around us and the idea of working for things you want and need. For example, we garden. Granted, we're not very good at it yet, we're learning. Each year we add an element or two to the garden. Veggies and herbs aren't the only food we're planning on producing ourselves. When we get back from vacation, we have a shipment of baby hens arriving at our door. You might be able to get a movie out of thin air, but breakfast is outside - put on your shoes and feed the chickens if you want that scrambled egg.
In this futuristic world, there is alot of good in technology, but there is alot of caution that must also be taken to remember that not everything is easy. There is something to be said for keeping a level of simplicity in your life. There is a balance between being a total technophile (my affliction, admittedly) and being a Luddite (my husband.) I'm not certain we've found it, but we're working on it and I'm seeing the vast differences technology makes in parenting and family life.
How does technology affect your family? Where do you allow it in your lives and where do you chose to simplify?