Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Kids and cellphones

In a previous post, I talked about my views of technology and kids. However, I wanted to revisit the issue because of a recent story I read on NBCNews.com. This story asked the question "Does your middle school child really need a cellphone?"

I wanted to address this article because I felt it missed the bigger picture in some areas. First, in defense of having a cell phone, a parent is interviewed talking about how they wanted their kid to have a cellphone because it made them feel like they could keep tabs on them wherever they went. However, this viewpoint often is seen as a helicopter parent trying too hard to be a part of every aspect of their kids lives. Although I know there is a trend by many parents to be quite overbearing, I think the idea of a parent wanting to know where their kids are is only natural. Cellphones just happen to be the tool of the day that helps with that problem. More on that in a moment...

The second point in the article is when they interview an expert who claims that under no circumstances should a kid under 12 have a cell phone. His argument is that kids can start to see technology as a "right". I can't help but feel that this is a silly straw-man that has very little basis in fact. The whole "entitlement" notion is certainly a concern with today's youth, but is something as simple as a cell phone an enabler of that?

I guess my biggest issue here, is that I don't see many of our technological advances as things to be feared. I don't believe that society is being corrupted by technology, or that our youth are being swept into a wave of apathy and laziness because we have electronic gadgets to deal with certain aspects of life. In fact I think that we need to start recognizing certain facets of technology as simply "the way things are" nowadays.

Getting back to knowing where your kids were. I remember growing up at a time in the 80s where cell phones simply didn't exist as a consumer product. Despite not carrying a cell phone, I wasn't completely out of touch. I always had a couple of quarters in my pocket or my backpack, so that if I needed to call home from a pay phone, I could. But today when you look around most neighborhoods, pay phones haven't existed for years. So if I were to hand my kid some coins and tell them to call me from a pay phone when they got to their destination, they wouldn't even know what I was talking about.

So my point is that it's not just the addition of technology like cellphones that have changed our lives, but it's the extinction of other technologies that have made things like cellphones make more sense. The beauty of our advancing technology is that it allows us to re-think why we do things, and re-examine the core problem we're trying to solve. Cellphones are just another tool as we move forward, the same as landlines have been in the past.

The core problem that we're attempting to solve with all of this is 'communication'. The telephone was a way to contact people from one location to another. Because of the limits of the technology at the time, we had to utilize a landline based system of cables running across the country. Cellphones are simply an evolution of the concept of communication, utilizing the best tools available at the time. In fact, at some point in the future, cellphones will give way to another new technology. But no matter what the technology is, the underlying principle of 'why' is the same. We want to communicate. I think it's incredible that we live in a time where we're no longer limited to only one or two ways to communicate with people we care about. If I want to talk to someone I know, I have lots of choices now. I can call them, send them a text, instant message them, e-mail them, etc.,. Having the freedom to communicate the way that best suits me at the time and in the context of the situation is a great freedom of the age in which we live in.

So ya... my kids have cellphones, and I'm cool with that.