Family has to update at broadband speeds
"We have a friend who LOVES hippos," a couple I had just met gushed, pointing to my son's hippo-decorated shoes. "Can we take a photo?"
"Sure," I replied, and within minutes photos of my son and his footwear were digitally captured, forwarded via iPhone, and posted up on Facebook.
It all happened so quickly that it made me think about how the pace of technology has gone warp speed since my childhood.
In elementary school, I felt we were early adopters with our cordless phone, fax machine and even a computer (albeit a rudimentary one that saved data to a cassette tape). By the time I was in high school, Apple II's and floppy discs had become commonplace; in college, e-mail began. Working in Silicon Valley further piqued my interest in all things high-tech and cutting-edge.
Somewhere along the line, though, my infatuation faded. Maybe I was overwhelmed: Did I really need access to 265-plus digital channels, to be reachable 24/7, have 382 online friends and the ability to follow Celebrity X's every move on Twitter? I was disturbed when an unwanted admirer found me online and tried chatting, or when someone's online comments on one of my articles inexplicably went off on a long tangent about Tijuana's seedy nightlife.
I definitely appreciate the way technology has made life more convenient, efficient and real-time. Still, now I may be more of a Luddite, a prepaid plan phone user who just bought our first MP3 player and has yet to set up a Facebook account.
As my children get older, I am going to have to get on the bandwagon again, for technology will certainly be, as one article put it, an extension of their lives. Despite the existence of parental controls, I worry about access to inappropriate material, offensive spam and online predators. It boils down to the age-old "don't talk to strangers" warning (but now the strangers are cloaked in cyber anonymity), as well as issues of control (but with the ubiquity of devices and networks, we parents can't restrict access entirely).
Yet this era of electronics ushers in benefits as well, some that for the future I can't even imagine. Entertainment, access to information, errands and communications will all be more instantaneous and streamlined for them than it was for us. The emphasis on interconnectedness has the ability to bring the family closer together if quantity does not replace quality.
Whatever our opinions on this brave new world are, it is here to stay and we need to work with it. Perhaps parents have always had the same ambivalence about technology (e.g., telephones; television) when it was first introduced, until it simply became a part of our daily living that we assist our children in managing. As a parent, I hope to stay involved and teach my kids how to filter out the bad while retaining the good, in life as well as with technology.
Monica Quock Chan is a freelance writer who lives in Honolulu with her husband and children.