I have fond memories of going to my father-in-law’s back room at Thanksgiving where he kept his Tandy computer that ran on 5-inch floppy disks. There was no hard drive so we had to load the game for a bit before we could play King’s Quest for hours. One Christmas, I invested hundreds of dollars to get dad a 20 MB hard drive for his Tandy. The memory is so strong, my daughter kept a version of this game for decades for her son to play.
Now our kids hold more power in their hands than our Apollo astronauts took to the moon with them 50 years ago. They don’t play King’s Quest anymore. Not only can they text their friends and acquaintances all over the world, there is Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest. Concerned parents, teachers and care-givers are asking whether we should be concerned about how digital play has changed our children. Is it ruining their eyesight? Is their ability to talk and play with others forever damaged? Are they carrying more weight because they aren’t playing ball outside with the neighborhood children?
I begin my day with a digital device. That was supposed to be a confession. I’m writing these words using a laptop while sipping on coffee. I’m sitting in a recliner rather than at my desk at the office because digital devices keep me connected with people I have known for decades in four other states and several foreign countries. The time zones don’t matter because their words and pictures are on my screen whenever I open it.
Jordan Shapiro in his new book, The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World writes, “the great philosopher Socrates didn’t believe ‘anything certain or clear could come from what was written down.’ He believed that once a writer or painter recorded their experience on paper or canvas, it became static and fixed. There was nothing to probe, no room for empathy.” Socrates apparently believed that once you separated the writer’s words from the living thinker, it was no longer interactive. Since you can never ask the artist what they were thinking when they painted, their expression was frozen in time and always “point to one thing. The same each time.”
Will cell phones, video games and the digital devices of our age be the end of us? Should there be rules, guidelines, or even a ban on these dangerous devices?
I was fascinated to read Shapiro’s research about what these digital devices mean to our children. I was also amazed to realize that every invention involving our children’s play—all the way back to the sand box in England—was accused of being the death of our children. Anything new has always been considered harmful.
Is it possible that the world has already changed and we are simply witnessing the new way of interacting with that change? What if, as Shapiro says, the new toys are actually more engaging because they involve a “different way of interacting, a different way of thinking, and a different way of living, learning and loving?” Maybe we should think before we ban all the devices. Instead of opposing the new way, we should seek to understand it first. Our children can help us with that. Opening the dialogue with them and learning how they play and interact with these devices would be a great place to begin.