I was at Target the other day (buying a new broom, because my current broom was about a jillion years old and produced far more frustration than it did actual cleaning) and I overheard a conversation between a Target associate and a rather befuddled-looking older gentleman in the electronics department. In a discussion that was somehow both sweet and amusing, the kid working at Target was trying to explain the concept of digital user manuals to the skeptical customer, who wondered why the item he was purchasing didn’t come with a paper manual.
“More and more companies are doing away with the paper manuals completely.”
“You don’t need them. You can download the entire manual online.”
“Or, if you have a specific question about the product, you can just Google: “How do I……….. ”
I didn’t stick around long enough to hear whether or not he was ever convinced, but it’s a conversation that I imagine takes place in various forms at Targets and cell phone stores and Best Buys every day, all over the world.
Life is just done differently than it was 50 years ago. Even 20 years ago. TEN years ago!
My dad, who’s in his late 60’s and is a very intelligent man, can use a computer to do basic things like send email….. but only if my mom helps him get to the “compose an email” screen first.
And when I last saw my 88 year old grandmother, she asked me to send her copies of some pictures I was taking. “But you have to send them in the mail. None of this air mail (aka email) stuff; I don’t even know how to open it.”
Not that it’s unique to older people. I’m 41, reasonably adept at handling a computer, and I still balk at learning something new. I stayed on MySpace long after everyone else had fled to Facebook. And now that Facebook is comfortable and familiar and I know how to use it, I’ll probably stay there too, long after everyone else has moved on to MeWe, or Ello, or whatever the Next Great Thing happens to be.
Learning new things technology-wise as an adult can be intimidating. I get it.
But my kids don’t have that problem. They’re so computer literate, and learn new platforms and programs and website navigation with such ease, that it’s both astounding and inspiring.
This is life in 2015.
We cannot be afraid of it. This is education. This is networking. This is communication. This is the workforce. This is entertainment. A whole big wide digital world at our fingertips. We’re doing ourselves a huge disservice if we’re not allowing ourselves to take advantage of all – or much – of what it has to offer.
The world is only going to get more technology-heavy, not less. My kids think it’s crazy that I remember my family’s first VCR. And that if we wanted to watch a show that came on at 8:00 on a Friday night that we had to actually be at the TV at 8:00 on a Friday night. And that early cell phones were about the size of a brick. And that the internet didn’t even exist until I was in my 20’s. And that there was no such thing as Netflix or Google or iTunes.
I can’t even imagine what amazingly cool technology – still just a pipe-dream of some go-getting entrepreneurial kid in his parents’ basement – is going to exist for my future grandchildren.
Life is different now. We need to know about different things now.
Which is exactly why I can’t understand the push to actually limit a child’s use of technology. I see parents stressing out about their kids spending enough time practicing things like handwriting, which is becoming less and less necessary; or even hand-writing math problems, another practice that’s changing in our current society, since despite what your teacher may have told you as a child – look at that! – we all DO carry calculators around in our pockets. In what I can only see as a stubborn refusal to move forward, people want to cling to the old, and only dole out the new in tightly controlled, highly restricted little portions. But limiting a child’s “screen time” (which – it has to be said – is one of the stupidest and most meaningless phrases to come out of the 21st century) is sort of like planning an extended, indefinite stay in a foreign country, and then limiting how much and how often your children can study the language.
“Of course you can learn Spanish! But only for a half an hour a night. Maybe for an hour on the weekend. You can earn an extra ten minutes a day if you do all your chores. But if you screw up? That’s it, I’m taking away all your Spanish time away until you can earn it back.”
I just can’t understand limiting access to the very language in which your child needs to be fluent.
As for me and my house, we’ve chosen the opposite tack. Whether the subject at hand is Spain or computers, I want my kids to be able to completely IMMERSE themselves in it. Play with it. Explore it. Live it. Learn it and learn from it and understand it.
I want my kids to be all in. I want them to be eager learners, enthusiastic explorers, and lovers of new information. I want them to be confident in their abilities, humble enough to ask for help when they need it, and brave enough to take on even the most daunting of tasks.
I want them to be primed and ready and raring to go, so that when the time comes for the next new overwhelmingly complicated bit of technological advancement (and that time will come… again and again and again) they’ll take it in stride. They’ll be able to look square in the face of the next generation’s cell phone or email or digital User’s Manual….
and they won’t be afraid.