When school districts put their hand out for money (an almost annual occurrence, it seems), one of the things on the wish list is often dollars for “more computers” or “technology improvements” or a “computer lab.”
We send our kids off to school in the hopes they’ll get a break from computers. Unless they’re actually learning programming or web design or something useful, I’d just as soon their academic experience relied on good, old-fashioned human interaction and work with papers and pens and pencils and the like. Because over the past few years, we have somehow evolved into the Laptop Family.
Jen and I both have laptops for our work, and they double as personal computers that tend to consume a lot of our eye-time. Austin bought his own Mac a year ago with lawn-mowing money; Kaylie got a hand-me-down Dell laptop from Jen; Andy and Max share my old Mac Powerbook. Six people with five laptops and one wireless network adds up to more computing power in our home today than the Federal Government had 20 years ago.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then familiarity is the father of need: The more we use these things, the less we can perceive life without them. Jen can no longer watch a film without IMDB’ing every actor and actress on the screen and singing out details of their career as we unsuccessfully try to shush her. Being grounded from the computer is our biggest behavioral bargaining chip we have with the kindergartner, fascinated as he is by online games on sites like neopets.com and nick.com. We try to limit him to an hour a day, but he has a way of silently moving into position in front of the keyboard, halo firmly affixed, and tapping away like mad. This is a kid who, at 3, was already a whiz at using a trackpad and knew how to find his own set of bookmarked sites.
The thing that fascinates me most about how our three teens use this technology is with the whole myspace.com thing. Kaylie is what I’d guess you call a myspace power user, changing the look and sounds of her site almost daily and working in her spare time to create new photographs, photo illustrations and other graphic treatments to customize her page. As boyfriends soar to the top of the charts then plummet into nothingness, their presence in her life is reflected on her myspace page. And her circle of girl friends, from what I’ve seen, spend a fair amount of time photographing themselves and one another, posting them online and then complimenting themselves on how they look. It’s kind of like an online beauty pageant where the judges are your best friends.
For all the doomsaying about the influence of computers and online temptations on kids, as parents we think this is the world now, and they should learn about it. We monitor what they play and for how long and make sure the myspace pages are “invite only” to keep away creeps. Sometimes we wonder about the time spent peering into the screen, but then we look at the wonderful Photoshop work Kaylie has done to enhance her myspace page, the fiction projects Austin and Max have both undertaken using their Macs and some of the cool, quasi-educational games Andy comes across online. In a world where any professional job and a good many others will contain heavy computer use, it seems logical for kids to be getting comfortable with them.
Even so, sometimes edicts must be issued to get the damn things turned off on a bright fall day. Regardless of the laptop’s appeal, it’s doubtful anyone will ever say they’d wished they’d spent more time on the computer when the paths and trails of autumn beckon from outside.