Saturday, January 20, 2007

system error

This is an essay from the latest issue of boxcutter:

Going through her eleven year old's new Christmas purse, Andee exclaims that the entire thing is filled with nothing but technological devices: two tamagotchis, one ipod nano, one nintendo ds, one digital camera, one piggy flashlight, and a game holder with three different games. All of us sitting with her kinda laughed and snickered about `these kids these days,' shaking our heads. `Why do they want all this stuff,' we wondered, but soon we fell eerily silent: three sets of parents, three minds realizing how our kids' worlds are just so different than ours was. For example, my kids all wanted technology for christmas, and my partner and I at first balked, thinking we were gonna give them only books and do-it-yourself science toys; you know Good Toys, but soon we gave way to pleas about what all the other kids were gonna get, and we found ourselves saying, `we might as well just buy them what they want, if we're gonna get them anything at all.' Right? What would you do?

So there we were christmas morning, and under the tree appeared so barren, looked so empty because all the presents were in these little boxes; it looked like they barely got any presents. It seemed so pathetic. By the time we got up, got coffee, got to the sofa, they made these tiny piles in front of them. I suddenly got all worried that they didn't get enough. Perhaps though we were the pathetic ones, so caught up in wanting our kids to be happy, to feel loved, to be satisfied. Because presents do that, right? Why on earth do we bother to give presents at all? I hate it. Not just with kids. I was stressing out trying to find things for the adults in my life. How did I get like this: I, who make things. I, who think of myself as so creative, so anti-corporate -- rushing around the day before christmas, so worried that my lover would not like her jacket or if I spent enough on my partner for fear she spent more. And there sat my kids' little frilly boxes underneath the tree. The only thing that saved the apparent lack of presents was the two gifts I bought basically for myself but wrapped anyway -- a basketball and a board game.

This is a panic created by consumerism and technology, but what should we have done? What would you have done? How to fight it when everyone around you especially your kids is so in to it, is so content to participate in our crazy, self destructive culture? It's easy to blame the youth of today but that is wrong. As for technology, this is what they know; it's not the way we grew up, wanting all these little devices. Were there any devices when we were kids? Yes, walkmans, and soon pagers, but did kids want them like they want a cell phone? So do we just say no to anything because it wasn't the way we experienced childhood (I mean who back then could walk around with an Atari and play it on the bart). We live in a different world. Take myspace which seems the utmost in prefabricated realities where you get a list of a hundred or so friends most of whom you don't know; I immediately want to hate on it, but I also realize that in this world of constant surveillance and monitoring, with a lack of public space to hang out in, without getting hassled, watched, where can kids turn to to reclaim there own autonomy: yep, cyberspace. It may be owned by Rupert Murdoch but it is something that they can create, control, invent, talk smack in, try to foster an identity.

So I try to relax while they rip open their presents; as they each squeal and laugh and scream and shout thank yous, I inwardly smile. A few hours later after the techno stuff is pushed to the side, after the cyber pets are sleeping in their little cyber houses, and the music is turned off because the battery needs to be charged, my daughter asks, `what's this game like?' Soon we are all sitting around playing and laughing together.

And then I opened my other present: the basketball and at the end of the day we all stepped out into the street and played with a ball, a real ball, and with our real dog, and we laughed and got angry and teased each other and had a great old time as the sun set on our real lives. Next year though I promise to do something different.

If you need some game suggestions these games have all been played and enjoyed for hours with our neighbors and friends -- get them because they don’t need batteries:

Dominos -- I got my ass spanked by a student in my english class a few semesters ago and have been wanting a rematch ever since, so when my son and I traveled into the jungle of mexico all we brought were books and a set of dominos -- we had monster games, created new slang for ridiculous decisions we made while we both learned to play. It has been a continued source of pleasure to set up and play in our house. It lasts for about 30 - 45's cheep to buy, easy to bring along, and perfect for talkin all kinda smack. Oh and I still lost the rematch...

Gobblet – This is an awesome looking game as well – made of wood and really easily set up and stored. It is like a crazy tic-tac-toe and connect four love child. The object is to get four in a row and you can gobble your opponent in the process. Hella fun and good for all ages and easy to learn.

Blokus – It’s a perfect way to kill an extra 20 minutes between cooking dinner and eating or after bath and before bed. Four people can play and as you get to know it more, you can get more strategic, but it is easy to learn and doesn’t take too long to finish. The main idea of Blokus is to get more of your pieces into play than anyone else. It is kinda like tetrus. Since the rules can be explained and learned in less than two minutes anyone can join in the fun with ease.


Anonymous said...

I liked Boggle, Scrabble, The Farming Game, Payday. And I am a horrible speller.

Anonymous said...

Blockus is a great game that just gets better with each play. Abstract mind stimulating games don't have to be boring and are often aren't, since the variety of play is wider than others.

My 11 year old twins seem to view technology as mostly the realm of adults and though they have their own laptops and play games on them, the iPod is a shared family thing and so on - the parents have more technology in our family and it tends to be stuff we amass according to how useful we see it. I'm thankful that they haven't entered that stage where technology-for-technology's-sake becomes the object of want - perhaps it is because they are Asperger's kids who are homeschooled, but, still, they have friends and cousins who crave cell phones and portable DVD players - they just like action figures and books better.

At the very least, it doesn't sound like your kids are bound by technology, it is merely their immediate landscape - they certainly are open to other things that life has to offer them, it seems.

Granny said...

We had a technology Christmas to some extent but we didn't go overboard.

I finally broke down and bought them a PS 2. After the first few days though, the novelty wore off and not it's not touched for days on end.

They'd rather play dominos or UNO.

Chip said...

It's funny, we had the same feeling about the empty space under the tree, though I'd bought some "real" things (slippers, bathrobes, books) as well as the cell phone (for CB) and ipod nano (for BK). They were just fine with the outcome though.

You're right about the whole technology scene. We held off for pretty long -- no computer use until 4th grade, no gameboy until 5th, no tv. Those early childhood years are the most important we figure.

But when all her friends have cell phones, it's hard to argue she shouldn't have one (even though we get along fine without one). And I'm really torn on the ipod. But on the other hand, both kids read a lot, and do other things, and we ended up playing scrabble and chess and just hanging out reading, so all is not lost...

Anonymous said...

Nice informative post but it makes me wonder who wants the tech toys more the kids or the parents so that they can send them off to go play a game so they don't bother them. Healthy New U

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Check outthis short piece on electronic toys, which reports on these two studies:

"A two-year study by researchers at the University of Stirling in Scotland found that electronic toys marketed for their supposed educational benefits, such as the LeapFrog LeapPad and the V.Smile Infant Development System, provided no obvious benefits to children. “In terms of basic literacy and number skills I don’t think they are more efficient than the more traditional approaches,” researcher Lydia Plowman told the Guardian newspaper. Although no Luddite (Plowman makes the rather perverse recommendation that parents give children their old cell phones so that they can learn to “model” adult behavior), Plowman believes parents are wasting their money on expensive educational electronics.

"At a conference on language development in November 2006, researchers from Temple University’s Infant Laboratory and the Erikson Institute in Chicago described the results of their research on electronic books, results that likely did not please the Fisher-Price toy company, which contributed funding for the study. “Parents who are talking about the content [of stories] with their child while reading traditional books are encouraging early literacy,” says researcher Julia Parish-Morris, “whereas parents and children reading electronic books together are having a severely truncated experience.” Electronic books encourage a “slightly coercive parent-child interaction,” the study found, and are not as effective in promoting early literacy skills as traditional books."