Sunday, 6 January 2013

Pre-teen Gadget Addiction Dilemma

Ah, what joy it was to see the kids' faces light up at Christmas; illuminated by iPad screens, that is. I wondered if it was a good thing, but they weren't mine so I don't have the dilemma of deciding at what age it's appropriate to satisfy their techno-gadget cravings. That's assuming they have them, and I don't doubt that they have. Via advertising, or at least one of their peers proudly boasting of Face Time with a friend, they'll be tech addicts before they reach their teens.

The most complex gadget I had for Christmas as a kid was the game, Mouse Trap.

OK, it's components were only made of plastic, but believe me it was harder to set up than an iPad. In fact, adults were required, and they'd given up trying by Boxing Day. Perhaps that was just my family. Mum would say 'Oh, all we had was a tangerine', and so the line of similar reactions to the incremental excess in the Christmas gift department goes...all the way back to cave-dwelling parents saying 'All I had was a stone' when seeing their kids unwrap a mammoth bone (small, if poor) or tusk (middle class), or even coat made from mammoth fur (upper).

Over this Christmas I watched young offsprings of my family gleefully calling each other, from across the room, just to talk to their faces on a screen, or not, since the thrill of seeing faces magically appear seemed to render them speechless. But what fun they had dialling up relatives, constantly, and to the same effect.

I found it fascinating to observe full-blown gadget love blossom before my very eyes. There is no stopping this evolution, regardless of the wishes of parents who might secretly yearn for simpler times (and less expensive gift requirements). Perhaps a few die-hard (middle-class) idealists bought toys made of wood for kids of the same age, or even Mouse Trap - 'But it's so retro, darling!'.

Their mum and I agreed that the effects of life in the techno playpen were incalculable, and I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for parents swept up by the tsunami of scientific progress in the form of techno-consumerism. Traditional forms of play involving physical interaction, building things and active creativity are supposedly better for kids. I'm no child psychologist, but I can't help wondering if staring at screens and reacting to pre-programmed entertainment will do the same job.

The obvious danger is that the youngest generation are being transformed into screen zombies at a very early age. Their attachment to a device will render the sights, sounds and smells of Real Life insignificant compared to whatever is happening on the gadget. I see enough adults absorbed in this scenario; the undead of the city walking into each other on the pavements and stepping out into traffic. For them the architectural wonders of London, never mind other people, need not exist, cocooned as they are in the virtual world.

As I age, the gulf between us techno retards and the Advanced Race of New Humans grows wider. Well, I'm not that much of a Luddite, but I'm far from being a cutting-edge consumer. Optimists will say that the wonders of the world made available at the push of a button will encourage young users to explore Real Life in ways they could never have imagined before. They will meet new friends via the social network, and having their brains fried by the info stream in the process is a small price to pay. Perhaps all that is true. I can't argue with the Tecchies; they've vicariously absorbed the wisdom of Steve Jobs and William Gibson, via apps, and the world is theirs. Polo-necked, bespectacled, they spout evangelical sermons from behind lecterns - all the world's a stage from which they constantly lecture us about the wonders of technology. The fact that their wisdom and wealth does not actually filter down to many of their subject is irrelevant. This is and always will be their age.

Meanwhile, on Boxing Day, I was tutored in the art of playing Skylanders by a ten-year-old. He was Hot Dog and I was Crusher.

I must confess that I would have been happy playing this all day, but that might have been considered a little unsociable. I followed Hot Dog around, smashing things, lifting rocks and, most fun of all, reeling in a floating island. Mouse Trap doesn't get close to this! The kid reassured me that I was a good learner. I now see him as my mentor, and will be asking him advice on everything from careers to relationships once he's on Facebook. When it comes to computer games, I would say 'If you can't beat 'em', join 'em', but due to their addictive nature I'd get nothing done, including this blog. I'm sure you'll agree that would be a terrible loss to the world...


  1. Indeed, it would be a terrble loss to this world...
    Ah, I love real stuff so much that I can't imagine what it's like to be a kid and have that different way of looking at things. Somehow we just have to make sure we keep them both running in tandem I s'pose, but when us lot have all died off, who will be the keepers of the flame (at least the kind of flame that *really* burns your fingers)?
    In a conversation about ebooks the other day, I was told that a techno-hip toddler was given a real picture book (those lovely things, the kind you can throw around without breaking and touch with jammy fingers and it only costs £5.99) and tried to make the picture bigger by doing that thing with his thumb and forefinger :-(

  2. Well said, C. Funny/sad story too. Images on paper will be alien to a generation one day.


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