RVA Family: Anachronistic youth

My kids have never known a world without iPhones and iPads, but all they want to do is use a landline and read letters written on actual paper.

I’m an early adopter of technology. I love gadgets and software and workflows. I like tinkering with things to make them work. I like spending three hours to write a script that saves me 10 seconds every day. I throw caution to the wind and install beta software because I just can’t wait. I go out of my way to figure out how to do things on my iPad just to see if I can. And this summer I’ll be purchasing a new smart watch to replace my old smart watch.

My children have never not known a touchscreen. My oldest daughter was born in 2007, the year the iPhone was released, and my youngest in 2010, the year of the first iPad.1 iOS was the first software they ever met, and it’s how they get to their games, their books, watch an episode of Doc McStuffins, or FaceTime with their grandparents. Anyone who thinks touch-based operating systems aren’t the future has never seen a 12-month-old successfully figure out an iPad.

So my kids are bathed in this tech. Both from the influences of both my wife and me and what technology we have around the house, but also the fact that 99 percent of the adults they interact with have glass computers in their pockets all the time. My children can make a fairly safe assumption that any grown-up they see can access the sum of all human knowledge just by unlocking their smartphone. This is not amazing to them. This is normal.

What is amazing or novel to them is some of the older technology we have around. I installed a corded landline phone2 in our kitchen, and it’s now both girls’ preferred means of synchronous long-distance communication. They have fought over it. They would rather lean against the wall, twiddling the cord, than video-conference like they actually live in this magical future.

My youngest is fascinated by a hand-powered AM/FM/weather radio I have in case the zombies hit. Turn the hand crank for two to three minutes, and then you can listen to the radio. Don’t like the song playing? Turn the physical dial until the static goes away and a new station emerges. How does the sound get there? Well, that’s a chance for dad to discuss the difference between amplitude and frequency modulation.

My car has a CD player. They love it. They love holding the case that has a picture on the front and the track listing on the back. An album is a physical thing. But that doesn’t change them wanting to hear music on demand from my phone.

And mail. Actual Dead Trees with print on them, folded into envelopes, and carried by humans and trucks across the country. These kids LOVE mail. They only get occasional cards from extended family to celebrate birthdays or holidays, but every day they ask if any of the mail is for them. I don’t blame them–I like getting mail too. Not the boring grown-up mail that you have to shred or recycle, but letters or cards. I should write more letters to people. Who wants me to write them a letter?

I’m not advocating for these mediums being better. I don’t want to go back to having to build furniture to house my plastic media, but there is some value in more simpler choices, sometimes. I’m not going to abandon email, but maybe I can write a letter or two. I’m not going to drop iTunes, but maybe I can listen to one album over and over again to more fully digest it.

The kids remind me that everything is amazing and normal at the same time. And they remind me that this technology has to be used. It’s not enough to be comforted that I could communicate with my friends at any time. I actually have to remember to do it.

Photo by: Muffet

  1. Not that I use this to remember what years my kids were born in or anything. 
  2. I call it my “4th Amendment Phone;” it’s the only line I have where the caselaw is clear that the government would need a warrant to tap. 
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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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