December 22, 2009

Take A Picture. It'll Last Longer.

The other day I was reading a kids magazine out loud to Mia. There's one particular section - just a bunch of interesting and not so interesting questions - that I absolutely love. I love it because Mia's answers are often insanely awesome, surprising and insightful. Don't get me wrong - I always know she's smart and I'm always aware of the fact that she's a little independent person. But going through this exercise with her always opens my eyes.

Me: Which of the following things are flat - a banana, a piece of paper, a photograph, a ball, and a cake.
Mia: Not a banana. That's silly. A piece of paper is flat and so is a cake most of the time, at least on top.
Me: Right, good job! How about the photograph?
Mia: Silly daddy. A photograph isn't flat.
Me: Well, what is it then?
Mia: On your computer and camera and phone. That's not flat.

You know, she's got me there. You and I think of photographs as flat pieces of paper your parents told you not to smudge with your fingers. Our kids, though, think of them as these virtual illusions that appear on computer screens, smartphones and the tiny LCD screens on the backs of digital cameras. And instead of waiting a week or two to see the results of a vacation photoshoot, or getting your Christmas pictures back in the new year, they expect immediate gratification. Which they get.

Mia and I have had other similar conversations in the last couple of days. We were reading a book about a woman who long ago traveled from a farm to a small village to get supplies. Her walk was two days long. Mia wondered aloud why she didn't just take a car. When I explained she helpfully suggested that the woman should have taken a scooter.

Mia has an iPod Touch. Okay, I have one that I loaned to Mia. Mia loves music, especially before bed and while she's falling asleep but most of her CDs are hopelessly scratched. Tired of trying to fix them and not needing the iPod after my recent iPhone acquisition, I handed it off to Mia. Her ability to master the thing and find what's she's looking for is scary-good. And yet it's kind of sad. I mean, I grew up with the phase-out of records and, later, cassettes. Now my collection is comprised of CDs that I'm in the process of totally digitizing. Records and tapes will be totally foreign to my kids and CDs will be something they look back on in fits of nostalgia.

I'm amazed what's been accomplished in my lifetime. Hell, I'm pretty sure I couldn't have conceived of an iPhone ten years ago. Yeah, we don't have those jetpacks everyone was promising, I'm still waiting on the opening of a moonbase and I'd dig having my own personal robot servant but still things are pretty good. As one technology-obsessed friend of mine said the other day when we were talking about something cool (I can't recall what), I loving living now. And I agree. But living now means we have to leave a little of yesterday, like photographs and records, behind. And I guess I'm okay with that. For the most part.

What do you wish your kids (or young people in general) got the chance to experience that they won't because of technology's inevitably quick march? What outmoded pieces of technology do you miss the most?

Posted by Chris at December 22, 2009 6:44 AM

My kids are still astonished at the mere notion of getting up off the sofa to change the TV channel. And I still don't think they believe my stories of only having 4 channels...

Posted by: leslie at December 22, 2009 7:43 AM

I miss records. I miss buying records and I miss record shops. (But I love having a tonne of music with me wherever I go.) I know my musical selections now are more in tune with what I like because I can sample easily... and there is much more out there than I can have access too. But part of me still misses sitting on the floor unwrapping vinyl for the first time. You know?

Posted by: Nat at December 22, 2009 7:47 AM

I finally got rid of my vinyl when we moved a couple of years ago. I still miss it even though I know you're right. There was music I haven't been able to find again.

New is not always better. We bought a combo vcr/dvd recorder earlier this year. The vcr record works fine. The dvd - not so much. I was recording Nutcracker from the SF ballet company last night on dvd. Big mistake - it cut off halfway through. And not for the first time.

I still don't own an Ipod. I can find most of what I want on Rhapsody (which I pay for - it's legal) and I'm not out enough to listen to one. Besides, I don't really care for shutting out the world around me.

Posted by: Ann Elizabeth Adams at December 22, 2009 8:57 AM

Simple video games. Xbox games are too much work to master. Sometimes I just want to sit down and shoot aliens, and I don't want to spend 30 minutes mastering the controls to do so. Give me an Atari joystick with a single fire button and I am a happy camper.

Posted by: COD at December 22, 2009 9:05 AM

Just a few days ago, Hubs and I were talking about this exact thing - how weird it would be for our son to grow up never knowing a time without computers and DVDs. Everything is so instant now, and to me it's kinda sad because I feel like we, as a society, have focused the majority of our technological advances on convenience and materialism. I like the Stephen King quote (and I'm paraphrasing 'cause I'm too lazy to walk downstairs and get the book) regarding his generation: "We had the chance to change the world and instead we created the Home Shopping channel." We have within our power the ability to cure world hunger, end poverty and send human beings to the Moon and beyond. I think we need a new Kennedy-esque vision as a society, a positive one we can all get behind, not one fueled by fear like the economic crisis or terrorism. Whoa, sorry for the tangent there, I'm running on 2 hours sleep and I'm gonna go nap now. Hey, at least I don't have to listen to my Mom bitch about rewinding the VHS tape Every Single Time. So, yay technology!

Posted by: Jen at December 22, 2009 9:13 AM

while i really dig the technology- i just got an iPhone last week and am IN LOVE and also am having an affair with a digital SLR camera- i kinda miss things like tapes, CD's, printed photographs, and books. for me it's a tactile thing, i like to have the CD and the liner notes and reading those things while i listen to the album for the first time. photos are more fun to scroll through in your hand as opposed to on your camera. and books-- well, let's just say e-books don't cut it.

.... but i do love my iPhone. and before that, my Droid, and before that, my crackberry.

Posted by: bri at December 22, 2009 9:22 AM

Tell me you get Cricket magazine for her! It's the BEST children's magazine out there. I still have a box of them in the attic that I look at every once in awhile.

And I still love my film camera. I refuse to give it up. Until they stop making film.

Posted by: k8 at December 22, 2009 9:43 AM

The digital age is great but having lost both parents I am so grateful for the tangible items I have of theirs that I can touch and feel and know they did the same. Digital photos and such just won't be the same. I have a treasure trove of paper records from their lives that I cherish. I think our kids are going to miss out on this type of memento.

Posted by: LaineyDid at December 22, 2009 9:59 AM

This is a tough one. I know the photographs, but I still tend to print most of ours.

I just think my kids are missing out on the overall chance to be kids. Out in the neighborhood til dark without worrying. Riding their bike over to the school and back. Things we did growing up, that for whaterver reason, maybe the neighborhood, maybe the times.

Posted by: debb at December 22, 2009 10:32 AM

During the opening scenes of Ghostbusters yesterday I had to pause the movie and try and explain to my 3.5 year old son what a card catalogue was. I hope he doesn't ask about the Dewey Decimal system.

Posted by: Matt at December 22, 2009 10:55 AM

I miss the making of a good mixed tape. Making a playlist just isn't the same. I used to have to work hard for my musical enjoyment and I think it meant more.

I also wish I had the listing of some of those mixed tapes that I loved so much.

Posted by: goodsnake at December 22, 2009 12:24 PM

Handwritten letters. Email/SMS is blissfully fast and convenient, but there was something wonderfully fulfilling and happy and romantic about old-skool correspondence. That feeling--when you'd find a card or letter from a friend in the mailbox--there's just nothing like that. It was special. There was real effort involved.

Also, I had pen pals in other parts of the world when I was a kid, and I used to look forward to their letters (and enclosed photos) something fierce. There's something to be said for anticipation.

I think anticipation in general is something our kids don't experience very much at all. Everything is immediate. That's not a good thing.

Another super valuable thing from my childhood that I don't see very much anymore is unstructured play. Kids lives are so structured and scheduled and planned and monitored. I don't think that does them any favors at all.

Posted by: Elise at December 22, 2009 12:58 PM

Oh, I love these comments! Yeah, a card catalog. What a relic. Also, I agree that the biggest thing our kids are missing out on is just being kids, like playing outdoors all day with little to no parental supervision. I read an outstanding essay about this very topic. The author mourned the loss of the kind of childhood he had (he likened the world of a child to what we experience as adults when we visit a new city. If you hit the ground with some maps and a sense of adventure, you get to know the city. You can navigate it on your own. You understand. If a friend picks you up at the airport and drives you around for the whole trip, you really have no clue where you are at any time. It's as if you were never there. And that's what we're doing for kids, toting them to and from school, practices, friends' houses, even the mall. They are probably losing their sense and understanding of the world (well, of their community at least). Okay, I'm getting carried away.) Anyhow. This author readily acknowledged that despite these strong feelings, he won't let his kids walk to school alone or play outside alone. It just feels too dangerous. Or as parents we are just too liable. (Imagine if your child were injured in a park and you weren't there. You would probably be arrested.)

And back to the original question. I fear that my children will not read books. That books will cease to be printed. We will all have Kindles and wikipedia. That terrifies me.

Posted by: Sabrina at December 22, 2009 1:02 PM

Remember having to dig under your car seats to look for a dime to make a call on a payphone?
How about the noise a VHS tape makes when you rewind it? "Be kind, please rewind"

I hear ya loud and clear on the picture thing.
My boyfriend is a photographer. He's taken over 30,000 pictures in the past 5 years. We've printed less than 25 of them. Sad isn't it?

Posted by: Rose Winters at December 22, 2009 1:02 PM

I miss the note.

"Ran to the grocery. Be back soon."

"Went to Bailey's house. Will be home for dinner."

"At Starbucks."

Now, if you wake up & nobody's home, you just call their cell phone to find out where they are.

Posted by: Kalisa at December 22, 2009 1:02 PM

A lady told me once that she was cleaning out the garage for a sale with her grand daughter. She called out, "Grandma? What are these big black CDs for?"

She turned around to find the granddaughter holding up LPs.

Posted by: oakley at December 22, 2009 1:13 PM

I could blame lack of sleep, but really, reading these comments makes me cry for our children.

I wish kids got to experience RELATIONSHIPS the way we used to. Knowing all of the neighbor kids, their parents, and playing outside with them. The excitement of when a friend unexpectedly shows up at the doorstep with a "can you play?" and getting the permission from mom to go. Walking to and from school every day together - and all of the hi-jinx that occurred on the walk. Having hoards of kids outside, at all times, ready and willing to play until that witching moment when the street lights came on and you all had to get home. Boredom being the mother of all invention - and some of the best games I ever played as a child.

Technology is killing relationships - and forcing our kids to miss out on so much of being a kid. And, according to all studies, producing a group of socially inept adults.

I miss albums, liner notes, and that sound when the needle hits the end of the record . . .

Posted by: Mindy at December 22, 2009 1:24 PM

Handwritten letters and cards, definitely. And the joy of a mix tape back when it actually took some time and effort to make one - it meant so much more ;)

Posted by: Heather at December 22, 2009 1:30 PM

In Oregon, we used to have to drive/walk/ride to a building to cast our ballots. This was usually a local school, firehouse, or church. I remember being very nervous when I moved to Portland because I was not sure where I had to drive to cast my ballot. And then it became kind of fun to see what artwork would be on the school walls, how many grandparents were volunteering, etc. In the last ten years, though, Oregon passed a law to allow mail-in ballots only. I remember a coworker taking her kids with her the last time she had to vote just so they could see the process--signing the little registry book, waiting for a polling both, closing the little curtain, punching the ballot...

A few years later we went to a local bargain bin store that collects bits of gadgets and novelty items and sells them CHEAP. Need a funky connector switch for that one wierd lamp? This place probably has it. The store had 38 collapsable polling booths for sale. So sad.

Posted by: JewelGeek at December 22, 2009 2:17 PM

lol! I hear every one of these (awesome) comments prefaced with "back in MY day"... (including mine)

I broke out my (non-digital) SLR camera & took some pictures - my kid immediately grabbed my hand and said "let me see!" And looked a combination perplexed and pissed that I couldn't/wouldn't show her.

The idea that if you didn't get what you needed by six o'clock on Saturday, you would have to get by until MONDAY!!! Most likely at 10:00 am!

Posted by: harmzie at December 22, 2009 2:59 PM

I miss books! I know I can still buy them and get them from the library, but every paper I get from my students uses all Internet makes me sad that they don't pick up a book and read.

Posted by: Krush at December 22, 2009 4:14 PM

During a conversation with my young daughter, I was trying to explain how to put something together and I said 'turn it clockwise'. Her clueless look made me realize that all of our clocks were digital; something I've since rectified.

Posted by: fauve at December 22, 2009 4:22 PM

i am also completely in awe of my two-year-old deftly flipping through her (my husband's) ipod touch apps. and when we use it to keep her occupied while we're at a restaurant or at the doctor's office, i am always reminded how my parents would have killed for such a thing :)

Posted by: kati at December 22, 2009 7:58 PM

I don't know. I love all the technology and I do enjoy living now. But sometimes I feel like I was supposed to be born... earlier. I just feel that, as a people, we're pretty damn jaded. I was born jaded. It seems like eras of the past had more a fresh feeling, more things to fight for, more innocence and joy.

And you can't beat some of the fashions.

Posted by: caleal at December 23, 2009 1:05 AM

Anyway, I never really answered your question. My answer is pictures. I remember when you had to wait for pictures. And even if a picture was bad, it was kind of cherished, because it captured a moment in time and you took it because you were in love with that moment in time. Except now, you can take thousands of pictures of everything... including yourself, at arms length, hundreds of times in a row. It just kind of... cheapens the whole thing.

Posted by: caleal at December 23, 2009 1:08 AM

I don't think it will be things that will be missed. I think it will be skills.

Recently at work a client asked us to reverse-engineer a hard copy of a report with fixed-pitch type. The development team said it was impossible. So I grabbed a ruler, notched off the columns and rows, and figured it out for them. I'm in my 30s. They're in their 20s. But for the life of them these people with Computer Science Engineering degrees couldn't figure out how to do it. I'm not saying I figured it out because I was smart -- it's because I was old enough to remember fighting with the output of Commodore 64s.

Gen X and the older segment of Gen Y are probably going to be the last ones who can work either with paper or computers with equal ease.

Posted by: Kat at December 23, 2009 1:29 PM

The sound my walkmen made when the battery was running low. You know, the fact that the song became reaaaaallllyyy slohow and the voice singing very low.

Posted by: mikkie at December 23, 2009 5:42 PM