Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fresh Brewed Week 3: When to Say Tech-No!

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Week 3 Topic: Technology's Impact on Family Connections

So this article about cars that are their own WIFI hotspots really got me thinking.

At first I thought, that's pretty cool, it's probably going to be a big hit.

Then I thought, whoa...that could be really dangerous. There are already so many people making risky choices while they drive, I  have a hard time seeing how this is going to lower those statistics. And lead to further disconnection between family members.

Then I asked Victor what her thought about it. He said he thinks it's a good strategy for auto makers, and he thinks it's a good idea. Then he started to guesstimate costs and whether or not that would allow mobile users to save money on their cell phone bills. Ultimately he didn't have enough info to draw a solid conclusion.

Cost, however, looks very different to me in this instance and in most areas involving technology. The dollar figure is not my only bottom line when I am considering investing in it. The impact it will have on our family is my main concern.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE technology. Especially air conditioning, living here in the South. But I am also keenly aware of how stealthily technology can weave into our lives until we are so dependent on it that we loose touch with each other. And that is something our family really hopes to avoid.

We are as susceptible as anyone else though. And we've had ups and downs where technology is concerned, especially in the realm of entertainment.

Victor and I love movies and tv shows. So do our kids. In fact, if we didn't strictly regulate ourselves, that is pretty much all we would do. But we don't have the self-discipline to simply not watch too much. We have to have more stringent and concrete measures in place.

Our solution? We do not have cable. We do not have Netflix. We do not even have an antenna to catch the local channels. But we still have plenty to watch. We rent, and borrow movies and TV series from the library, and we can request just about anything that has been put on DVD. We own a large number of movies as well. Mostly kid movies, but plenty of Victor and my favorites too. We recently did invest in a Roku. This was not without much discussion and weighing of pros and cons. It was decided ahead of time which channels we would have, and then we set a code that we have to enter in order to add any further channels. It can be done, but it is a bit of a nuisance, thus making us pause and think before proceeding. This has worked out really well so far. These restrictions better enable us to turn off the tv when a movie or show is finished, manage our time better, and keep us open to doing things together and encouraging us to engage our minds in more stimulating and beneficial activities.

I am not suggesting that every family operate within such strict confines when it comes to tv viewing. In fact many families can be much more lax in that department and it works well for them. I'm just sharing what has worked for our circumstances and tendencies.

Another area that sometimes feels like it could consume us is non-tv screen time. We have a Wii, a tablet, several variations of Gameboy and Nintendo DS, several phones, and a laptop. We really enjoy these. But again, sometimes we find ourselves too wrapped up in them. And the lines are harder to draw on how much is too much.

For example, Zak is getting really into animation. He could spend hours on the laptop in his animation program. Is that a bad thing? I'm not sure. It may not look like much, but when I sat down with him and he took me step by step through the process, I was amazed at how much patience it required of him, moving his characters in small increments in frame after frame to create a finished piece. One of his videos only runs about 30 seconds, but it is made up of over 365 individual frames, and in one part he had to manipulate a cast of of over a dozen characters, adjusting them with over 108 different movement joints. On top of that, he is creating stories, characters with personalities, plot, intrigue, irony, action, twists, and humor. And this is all with extremely basic animation software involving primarily stick figures. These are not useless skills considering the technology infused world he is growing toward adulthood in. It's hard to know how best to regulate this type of learning/playing with technology.

Another example is letting our three year old play on the tablet. Like most kids her age, she loves playing with technology. Unlike most kids her age, technology has played an impactful roll in her ability to learn to communicate and connect with others. When, due to autism, her speech disappeared at 16 months, we used technology by way of Signing Time videos and many words looked up online to teach her American Sign Language. She became proficient at using over three hundred signs, even spontaneously combining them to make requests, statements, or tell stories. I am eternally grateful that we had this technology available to enable us to help her communicate and lessen the stress of what was already our most challenging period as a family.

It also helped foster bonds with other family members. She used to take a very long time to warm up to Nana when she came over to visit, but when Nana started bringing her tablet with her, Kit would run up to her, look in Nana's bag, look up a Nana and sign "please". Then they would snuggle in together to watch Caleb and Sofia, the snuggling thing being something that Kit often had difficulty with, but not so much when she could focus her attention on the tablet. Similar bonds were formed with other friends and family members using technology to help promote her joint attention skills and becoming ok with being held, hugged and other expressions of affection.

Her speech has come back, much to our delight, but she still uses the tablet to help her find calm when she is overtired or overwhelmed, and to help solidify concepts that used to be difficult for her to understand. Only in the last month have I observed her be able to play with her real world toys spontaneously (as opposed to only playing the same script with them over and over) and more often, instead of ultimately preferring to watch YouTube toy reviews over real life play. But allowing her to watch more than the 30 min recommended amount of screen time for her age, she was able to take in those videos, imitate them at first, but then gradually build her understanding and base to be able to draw play scenarios from and eventually be able to combine them and then even come up with original play. As she has become more skilled in real world interactions, she has spontaneously reduced the amount of time she wants to spend on the tablet.

My kids can easily spend an hour and a half every day, playing Just Dance on the Wii, sometimes longer. I am reluctant to tell them to turn it off when they are so engaged. They are exerting themselves in full body physical activity when they do this. I am ecstatic that they are exercising and loving it! I'm much quicker to enforce a time limit on say, Mario Cart, where they tend to do a lot of sitting, even though their brain is busy.

Victor and I held out for years before adding texting to our phone plan, until there was basically no other option that was cheaper. But we are not anti-text. We texted regularly through a free data app. Some of our most productive conversations have taken place through texting as sometimes that is the only way we can speak to each other without constant interruptions from life. Even though the conversation may take place over a longer period of time, being able to fully form a thought and then send it, where the other person can read it, think about a response and then reply is a helpful tool. And I am positive that as my kids reach the teen years, the more relaxed nature of not having to have every conversation be face to face might foster freer and more frequent conversations. We shall see sooner than I'm ready, I'm sure.

Clearly, technology is not all good nor all bad. It can serve some very useful purposes, and has contributed to huge amounts of information being available at the click of a button or a tap on the screen. To me personally, I think it's really important to keep a finger on the technology pulse of my family. This way if we seem to be veering away from our goals for connection, we can fairly easily make course corrections. Especially since new gadgets and uses for them are constantly being dangled before us. This is something each family needs to carefully weigh.

How do I feel about my car being WIFI equipped? I'm not interested. For the time being, I see it as something that would cause more distance between us and the kids, rather than being useful. Not that it matters much anyhow, we are plenty satisfied with our current wheels and will be rolling happily along for a number of years to come. Without WIFI, On-Star, XM Radio, or DVD players! I'm good though, it's got air conditioning after all.


  1. It varies with routes and traffic and length of journey, but over 50+ years of driving, I have formed many memorable moments in the vehicle. Talking. Listening. Or companionable silence with those I love. Or productive silence when time is needed to absorb, realign, dissipate, grow, especially those heart conversations with precious teens. We learn geography, agriculture, art, many other interrelated cultural aspects of where we live and where we are passing through.
    I am sometimes grateful that reading in a moving vehicle always made me sick. Instead, I kept my eyes, and consequently my thoughts, on the changing world around me. Seeing how the landscape sculpted the people themselves.
    I remember having a seatmate on a bus in Arizona, looking up at me and then out the window as I was readying my self and belongings to disembark at a high desert isolated location. He said with surprised eyebrows "You're getting off here? There's nothing here!" I just smiled and said "Oh yes. There is plenty here."

    1. Exactly, there is so much to see and talk about when we lift our eyes up from the screens. Your story made me smile. There really is plenty here, werever we are, when we know what we are looking for. :) ♡

    2. Yes, and most of us (your children) grew into adults with a similar appreciation and/or need of "car time" and long drives for conversation, meditation, realignment of spirit, and pursuit of a peaceful mind and heart - a true and lasting gift. Thank you. :-)