But what are we changing into?

Yesterday I talked about coming to grips with the rapid pace of technological change. But today I’ll take a step back and ask: what are we changing into? What are we gaining? What are we losing?

Our brains are changing. Scientific American recently published an article, “How Google is Changing Your Brain,” pointing out that quick access to the cloud is changing the way we think. We use the Internet to get information we used to get by asking friends and family — essentially, as an external hard drive. Yes, indeed. I bought a Kindle Fire because my kids keep asking me questions, and although I don’t know the answer, I can get it in just a few seconds. Yesterday my daughter asked me what a Rube Goldberg device was. It was right at bedtime, so I gave her the accelerated version with hand gestures: “Ping, ping, roll, crash, clatter clatter pop — ding!” But then, once their teeth were brushed, I googled it, read Rube Goldberg’s biography, and showed them two youtube videos of Rube Goldberg devices.

Whoops! That violated our house rule of “no screen time just before bedtime.” And sure enough, bedtime was late and everyone woke up groggy. Screens are so very tempting.

The kids use computers way more than I’d like them to. Sure, I set limits, but they’re higher than mine were when I was a kid, and it’s easy to slide. Even easier if I’m on the computer when I didn’t mean to be. The temptation’s higher, too. When I was a kid, “screen time” wasn’t a word. It was “TV.” And it was broadcast TV, which meant that it had a predictable beginning and end. When the Muppet Show was over, we turned the TV off.

On the flip side, what the kids are doing with their screen time is a bit mindblowing. They’re playing Minecraft, a game that’s a lot more than a game. At its core, Minecraft is a 3D building program. They make buildings, trains, you-name-it. Their spatial skills probably already exceed mine. And very likely, they’re learning stuff they’ll need in tomorrow’s world. They’re also programming in Scratch, a language designed especially for kids.

But what’s being lost? Easy. Exercise and reading. Exercise was already in trouble, because most kids don’t roam the neighborhood freely. Too many cars and too many parents afraid of child molesters. But screen time is so tempting, they get even less. As for reading, my kids read, yes, but not as much as I did.

In fact, I don’t read books as much as I used to. I read blog posts, Facebook entries, and links from the Facebook entries. This gives me less opportunity to just cuddle down with a book and lose an hour in pleasant concentration. In fact, when I do have that opportunity, my mind races a bit. It’s used to speedy browsing. I have to always remind myself to slow down, unplug, enjoy the life right in front of me. And teach my kids to do it too.

There’s some kind of balance to be struck here, but I don’t know what it is. How can I? Our world, and the people in it, are changing. Into what?

I don’t have an answer. Do you?

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