Christmas shopping

After reading Brenda Laurel this week and her comparison of human-computer interaction to theater, I was reminded of our earlier discussions of Licklider’s idea of man-computer symbiosis. Laurel discussed a theatrical performance as incomplete without the audience to make the necessary inferences. Likewise, the computer relies upon the user to fill in the gaps, bridge the less-than-perfect representations. Although computers are not sentient, humans develop relationships with them. The newest technologies can lead to dramatic changes in our behaviors, in our habits, and in our relationships with others. Perhaps that is why I worry so much about Christmas shopping this year.

My daughters are 8 and 11, and this will be the first year that the gifts all come from Mom and Dad and not from Santa. (You should probably stop reading here if you are a true believer.) The identity of the main gift giver is not all that has changed. The types of gifts my children request have given me more and more pause for concern as they have grown older. Dolls, puzzles, bicycles, books…. these were all purchased with little worry about their effect on my children. (Well, except for Barbie. Simonne and I still laugh about my feminist tirade about “not-every-woman-has-long-legs-blond-frizz-free-hair-and-big-boobs” to which she replied at the wise age of three, “Mom, it’s just a TOY.”) Barbie, aside, buying presents for my kids has always been, as it should be, fun.

Except when it comes to technology. The first request came from Simonne about three years ago when she asked for a DS. “A D-what?” Out came the child psychology books.  I conferenced with my husband. I conducted my own small study of the behavior of other people’s children who owned DS games. In the end, we bought the DS (or Santa did), she played with it, and still does from time-to-time, and life went on.

Then came the iPod touch. No need to do research there. I owned an iPod. Little did I realize that the iPod touch did far  more than play music like my iPod shuffle. Still, both kids are still passing grade school and neither has landed in juvie.

However, this year has me worried all over again. Chloe wants a mini-laptop, and in the interest of safety, we’ve decided to buy Simonne her own cell phone. I am still not certain why handing my kids new technology makes me so nervous. They are great kids, and we try our best to be good parents. We know their friends, and we pay attention to what they are doing on-line. Perhaps the unease comes with the lack of familiarity. I grew up riding bikes, reading and playing with dolls (yes, even Barbies). I didn’t use a computer until I was in college, got my first e-mail account when I was a post doc, and used the internet regularly only when I became a faculty member. My students at Tech picked out my first cell phone for me and they created my Facebook account.

I must admit that I was comforted greatly by reading Laurel’s essay and listening to her TED talk. Knowing that there are people working in the new media who are humanists and scholars, who care about the well being of children as much as about making money, gives me some peace of mind.

My kids will be fine as they enter new relationships with new technology.  Given the boxful of discarded Barbies in the playroom, all naked, several missing limbs, a few with Sharpie moustaches, I should probably worry more about the fate of the cell phone and the laptop.

One Response to “Christmas shopping”

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