I woke up from my weekday post-work, cozy on the couch nap around 11pm, dozing off during one of the MSNBC shows and shuffled on down the hallway, to check in on my daughter.
Little O is 12 and she was hosting a school friend on a Friday night sleepover. I peeked in to find them laying on the foldout futon with their backs facing the door, shoulder to shoulder, an earbud in one ear, legs splayed and toes wiggling, their heads bobbing to a personal beat as they each watched a youtube music video on their separate smartphones.
It was a picture worthy moment, the two of them, friends since second grade but now in different schools quietly enjoying themselves. The soft uplighting was perfect but flashing a pic, well, that just seemed invasive. So I resisted the temptation to reach for my camera and let the moment pass into memory. There was a time and it wasn’t all that long ago when and without any hesitation, daddy would have snapped that pic but my daughter is twelve now…… twelve going on eighteen?
Yeah, things are changing and they’re changing rather quickly.
Proceeding to the end of the hallway, I found Ms. O at her desk busy knitting away, as one eye kept an eye on a Breaking Bad episode she was watching via NetFlix on her MacBook. Glancing up, she grinned as I told her about the girls and she raised her eyebrows in that, ‘Yup, yup, I know’ expression she flashes me sometimes, when she’s kinda’ busy. I have one of those looks too. After 10 years of marriage most of us do, I hope.
Turning but still in the doorway, I stood there for a moment, murmuring,
‘We’ve become them?’
I’m not a big fan of commercials. I’ll be very blunt, I despise them. All of them. Shiny happy people dancing around holding yogurt containers, the squawking insurance duck and earnest spokesfolk for energy monopolies get an immediate MUTE from me, followed by a detour to Bikini Bottom until Rachel returns.
Spongebob and Patrick are silly but at least they’re honest.
SpongeBob Squarepants is always good for a giggle and a flood of good memories too. It was Little O’s favorite and lucky for me it supplanted Dora the Explorer. Always up for quality cartoon time, we would both slouch on the livingroom couches when she was younger and laugh ourselves silly. This room that doubles as my writing space and her bedroom when she visits, was totally decorated with SpongeBob paraphenalia. I still remember the day we both went to Target and filled the red cart with bedding,
a lamp and at the time, a huge stuffed SpongeBob.
For many years, it was her huggy I handed her as I tucked her in, that and the click, click, click, click of my keyboard, helped her fall asleep. She has a noise machine now. Stored away in boxes are all the neon yellow, SpongeBob items and this room is now being redone. Gone is the private loft and ladder I built for her, after removing the folding doors of an extra large closet. She’s grown so tall, so fast that she no longer fit underneath.
We still catch a few episodes of SpongeBob together and she still squeals with delight.
But this is the same twelve year old who, this past summer, lay belly down on that same futon editing a neatly stacked, clasped, inch thick manuscript of a book written by a classmate. Spending the better part of her weekend, she dutifully wrote detailed notes on the reverse side of almost every page. As a fellow writer, I was intrigued and a little curious about the novel and was told it was autobiographical, but not much else. I sensed she was being protective, so I praised her generosity and went back to my own writing, shaking my head trying to absorb it all.
And that’s a thing about parenting; it’s the click, click, click, click of the everyday, when you think maybe you just might have it figured out and then…whoosh!, it’s readjustment time again.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep up.
Not keeping up with technology is a pursuit I’ve been somewhat actively involved in. Sure, I own a computer, a reconditioned Samsung Netbook, snagged at halfprice online attached to a large Visio flatscreen monitor, also reconditioned and until six months ago, a not very complicated phone. I write, peruse the web and store pics. I don’t game, Facebook, Tweet or belong to any social networks, so my tech needs are very basic and I’ve liked it that way. I realize I might be an anomaly but I’m more than OK with that too, it wears well or at least it did.
I worry about our adherance to technology, worry about what changes are taking place in our relationships, our interactions and in our society in general.
I see it on the sidewalks in Chicago, the hordes of commuters doing the Smartphone Shuffle, headphones on, head down, texting or listening to tunes. They bump into others and just like a pinball, bounce off and continue walking without acknowledging the interaction. People in cars are texting and for some reason get annoyed and out comes the finger, when you remind them that the light has turned green. I’ve seen folks walk head down into an intersection and a cyclist texting with both hands, while riding in traffic.
Yeah, I realize these might be anomalies too but maybe it’s a symptom of something bigger, all of us retreating into a personal smart device cacoon and the slow, incremental technology creep infiltrating almost every facet of our lives. And despite my anxiety and my efforts to keep it all at arms length, it’s happened to me and my family too. The ‘We’ve Become Them’, technology creep began last year in three, unrelated and random events.
Ms. O and I are movie buffs and the last and best video rental store in our neighborhood finally had to shutter its doors, the result Netflix. Little O won an IPad in a school raffle and now to sync up, an upgrade to an IPHONE for Christmas. The company I work for went 100% digital and all our communication, updates and work orders etc., are now directed through our smartphones. Result, Little O helped me pick out a Samsung Galaxy Note, with a stylus that can be used on the keyboard to text, instead of my uncooperative thumbs.
So waking up that night, leaving my own TV and now smartphone accompanied cacoon, finding Little O with her friend in theirs and my wife in hers was, a tad…. unsettling.
It reminded me instantly of another recent commercial I dislike.
A ‘typical two kid mom and dad family’, all frowned and frustrated because there isn’t enough couch space for the four of them to watch a movie together, a compromise choice they all dislike, so no one’s happy. They upgrade to a 4g service that allows them to record and view, four separate shows in four separate rooms. Suddenly, shiny, happy faces break out simultaneously in all four rooms and life is so much better.
See, the thing is, I’ll still take that detour to Bikini Bottom and continue to despise commercials. But slowly, imperceptably, there’s no denying that ‘We’ve Become Them.’
We didn’t plan to but here we are and I still worry about the effect of so much tech in our lives. But I’ve also, slowly, come to enjoy my smartphone and it’s 4g features. Will I now become a Smartphone Shuffler, text in my car or while I’m riding my bike. No but I think NEW RULES need to be adopted so that we don’t fall into the ‘tech cacoon in separate room family’, all the time.
Me and Little O, who has now become a perpetual texter, have a new texting relationship we didn’t have before. She doesn’t enjoy talking on the phone and neither do I, if I can help it. We make all our plans now without her mom as a middleman and I’m proud of her. It’s a big step for a 12 year old.
Oh and then there’s that cool app from her school that alerts her mom and me, if she’s no longer getting straight A’s and is in danger of sliding off the deans list!
I got a text from her a while back, asking me to sign and pass along the Change.org petition to protest the awful ‘Kill the Gays’ law in Uganda. I clicked it, passed it on and thanked her for caring about such an important issue.
Click, click, click, click……whoosh!
That’s a thing about parenting; sometimes you have to keep up.