Saturday, March 25, 2006

TUL8R? Moms and the technology gap

There's nothing to make you feel old like realizing that whole waves of technology have passed you by. I've finally fallen into the technology gap that comes with being away from both the workforce and college culture. I thought I was up to date (or at least ahead of my baby-boomer elders) because I love TiVO and can't live without my iPod, but then I smacked face-first into the wall of ignorance when it came time to buy a new cell phone.

As a Mom I am already tethered to my cell phone as an electronic umbilical cord, but I've never expected to do more than be able to call on it. But now that I'll be traveling for the paperback release of Mojo Mom I thought I should look into getting a phone that can browse the web and access email. Just like buying a new digital camera or video camera, this journey into consumer electronics has led me to a point where there are so many choices, most of them pretty good, that I find myself paralyzed when it comes to making a final decision. BlackBerry vs. Treo 650, web enabled phone vs. smart phone? Not only have I never sent a text message but I can't really imagine why anyone would want to (uh-oh, this is surely a sign of impending middle age). But I do want to be able to check my email on the road without necessarily becoming a "Crackberry" addict.

I hope electronics manufacturers will think about these issues and provide some FAQs for people coming late to the party. Most of the reviews I've found were so detailed that they failed to help me see the big picture. The Best Buy website had the most helpful info, at least cluing me in to the fact that there are web enabled cell phones that aren't exactly full-fledged PDAs like the Blackberry. Next step is to show up in person and find an actual human being to help me out.

This week's Time Magazine has a great cover story, Are Kids Too Wired For Their Own Good? about teens, technology, and the age of multitasking distraction. This is the downside of technology. I wrote about the process I call "reclaiming your mind space" in Mojo Mom, and this idea means finding a balance by using technology to bring you the information you want while at the same time choosing selectively and turning down the volume on inputs you don't want. The second part is as important as the first. In our family, we never have the TV on just as background noise, we avoid the CNN news crawl as much as possible, and our 6 year old only plays on the computer on very rare occasions. We keep very current on the news through other channels including NPR and newspapers. I feel that the 24 hour news channels just fill the void between important news stories with extra helpings of fear and anxiety or ridiculous trivia.

As a former neuroscientist I do wonder about the effects that the new multitasking technologies and habits will have on our children's brains. On the one hand, kids are becoming masters of dealing with lots of information. On the other, I am starting to feel sorry for high-school teachers and college professors who have to get up there and give a live presentation to kids who are used to mulitmedia extravaganzas.

The final thing that is on my mind is that in Raleigh a few weeks ago, four teen boys were killed in a fiery wreck when their car ran off a highway overpass traveling over 100 miles an hour. Could years spent playing realistic auto racing video games be conditioning kids' brains for a need for speed? Teens have been irresponsible drivers from time immemorial but I wonder if these games are introducing a new risk factor into that equation. Getting behind the wheel of a real car must seem pretty boring after years of playing "Gran Turismo" or "Need for Speed."

The jury is still out on this one. This is a great deal of academic research about "experience-dependent bran modification," but it's not always clear how it all connects to the real world. I am not yet aware of research that could answer this question. But I have a strong sense that all of the conditioning our children are receiving will have lasting impressions and consequences we aren't aware of yet. Technology itself is not good or bad--it's all in how we use it. It's important for parents to stay on top of these technology trends so that we understand the culture and environment our children are growing up in. We all need to become thoughtful consumers of media and experiences as well as products.

Maybe I should learn how to text message after all.


Anonymous rhonda said...

It is pretty scary when the 10 year old across the street can teach me how to take an entire computer apart and put it back together.

I agree, we definitely need to keep up with all technologies, before the kids know more than we do.

Text messaging on the other hand, honestly I think it is more trouble than it's worth :)

2:35 PM  
Anonymous obxmom said...

Can I just say-AMEN!

I am curious as I have now entered the treo vs blackberry debate-what did you choose?

4:58 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

After all the research I did, I actually decided just to keep my boring, low-tech cell phone. I realized that whenever I travel, I take my laptop with me and I can get email that way on a daily basis. If someone needs me right away, they can call me to get my attention. I think that email coming to me on a handheld would be incredibly distracting and hard to keep up with.

But for the record, I would have chosen the Treo.

1:07 PM  

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