Thursday, December 11, 2008


My parents were always the ones who got technology last. I remember going to Sears with my best friend Chris and his Dad to purchase Space Invaders for the Atari 2600. He bought it for the astronomical amount of $50 in the late 1970s. We eventually got an Atari, but it took a while (at least in my prepubescent memory) to get cable and then FINALLY a VCR. These slow steps in technology were made by my parents in order for us to know the value of patience - of not purchasing things until you can really afford them - It was hard to take at the time, but was beneficial to my ability to evaulate needs vs wants.

My first computer at home was a Commodore 64 with a 300 baud modem that I saved up and bought myself. I used it to play games, write some work for school, but mostly I went online - tying up the one phone line in the house talking to people on some guy's personal BBS (Bulletin Board System) about time travel and Doctor Who.

I became somewhat of a luddite during my collegiate years as I did my undergraduate work on a Smith Corona typewriter/word processor. It worked. It wasn't until grad school that I went back to Macintosh, learned what Windows was, and started my first forays into the web through usenet groups and email. 

Now, of course as I sit here on my Dell XPS with an (albeit Gen 3) ipod, palm zire 72, and numerous video game systems, dvd players and HDTV in the house...I wonder: Does my use of technology help my family or harm them eventually? I personally strive to research not the most expensive, or highest standard or most bells and whistle type of technology to purchase. I do my research and try to find the best value for the money I'm investing in. I keep technology around (well organized of course) and keep it working for multiple years and purposes. My 20G ipod is still very much in use. I just bought a new battery for it and installed it myself to keep it going for much longer. My desktop computer bought in 2001 is still the home computer and is working rather smoothly, even though the fan is a bit loud. And video games? I've got several copies of that Space Invaders game...although I purchased them for about a quarter a piece. 

Technology to me is the social campfire in which we now gather as a society. Communal experiences occuring over wireless networks and down fiberoptic cable. 

"Did you see that final drive for the touchdown?"

Yeah I did. I'm part of the group. I'm able to experience things that others experience and be able to be part of the conversation - of the greater tribe.

But, my life isn't exclusively about technology, nor do I wish my kids to participate solely within its confines. We go and play outside. Meredith is terrific at taking them to the park. Alexander has expressed an interest in doing sports next spring and summer. Meredith has him taking nature classes and art classes. His classroom doesn't have a computer. 

The right balance for me is to let he and his brother know the fun of watching science fiction - to zap the alien invaders - to talk to their uncle living halfway across the continent, live and personal with video and everything but to also let them know that it's ok to turn off the tv and read A Wrinkle in Time or to play with Legos. It is technology that has increased our ability to live together through a wider communication. It is definitely with its dangers and pitfalls, but it can bring joy, creativity, escape from the responsibilities you know that you have to do when you turn off the machine. 

One of the most important things I've tried to tell my son about technology, is that it is only as smart as what humans tell them to do. Otherwise, they're just metal and plastic. If we take care of them and repair them occaisionally, you can get the best value out of the technology you purchase. 

Oh, by the way, I have that first VCR my parents bought. 

It still works like a champ. 

If you would like to read more about other parents and their view on technology and their kids, please check out and their blogging contest about this subject. 


Meagan Francis said...

Great post! And you brought back a lot of memories referring to the Commodore 64...hehe. I think you're right that technology has become the new social campfire--great metaphor. Thanks for entering!

Meagan said...

Hey Stephen--you won the contest! Can you shoot me an e-mail ( with your address, along with the age/gender of the child/children who will be using the Leapster 2 so we can get it out to you?

Thanks for entering!

EmandaJ said...

Hi Stephen,

I've bee catching up with the blogs I follow and was thrilled to read your great blog (and a bit tickled to note you turn off the technology to read "A Wrinkle in Time" We've missed you all after the dash off for the holidays. Let's get together soon.