Let them eat imaginary cake

Business, politics, entertainment, art, education, and even frying eggs seems to require a constant connection to the digital world.  Now with COVID-19 amplifying this perceived need of digital connectedness into a necessity, I wonder how the digital recovery will play out. My 7-year-old who already knows how to fry eggs, impulsively asked our Google Home Hub how to fry an egg.

When trying to convince my 13-year-old that math is important, I told her a story of how I was able to expose the lies of a solar panel salesperson about potential costs and savings by slinging a little algebra, and she insisted that she would be able to do this by googling it.  I was amazed at what faith she has in her phone.

Time spent on digital media can be all consuming. Teachers often use social apps to encourage student participation. My internal medicine clerkship rotation required that we post quick synopses of medical conditions on a Facebook page. Time spent interacting with the analogue world has far more on the line and requires many more degrees of freedom. A couple generations ago, parents may have worried about stopping their kids from playing with venomous snakes. Now most children I encounter are too terrified of earthworms to even attempt to string one on a hook.

How we can extricate our children from the internet of things and give them a chance to understand an actual web of things. Strategies range from screen-free time (we are screen free from 6AM to 6PM on Sundays) to software assisted access limits to going off the grid entirely. The latter displays the lengths people will go to in order to protect themselves from the threat of being sucked into the matrix.

Getting kids out of their digital shell an into the sunlight. Photo my own.

I am not going to tell you what is the right strategy. However, there is one component of any strategy that is necessary: experience boredom. By this, I don’t mean take away the device and lock your child in an empty padded room. I mean that what is really missing is the experience of NOT being fed information, not responding to programmed stimuli, not being pulled into a vortex.

Find a way to let them go out and discover the world more accidentally. Let them play in “the devil’s workshop.” If devices are taken away, but the child is forced to participate in clarinet lessons, the point of removing a constant stimulus is lost. It is like locking them in a chat room where every comment is actuated with the sound of squawking, dying ducks.

Let them be bored. Set them in a place of possibilities and be patient. It could take awhile before they are not too terrified to interact with the analog world of things.

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