Last week, my family had the pleasure of a visit from my sister-in-law, my niece and my niece’s 18-month-old daughter. We stayed up too late, we ate too much and we laughed a lot.
Watching my grandniece run around the house at a constant 70-degree angle, barely escaping collision after collision reminded me how hard it is to raise little kids. I remembered a ten-year span where my wife and I watched virtually no television that didn’t involve penguins or puppets. I remembered making every furniture purchase while considering what would happen when somebody inevitably faceplanted into it. And I remember eating only cheese pizza because heaven forbid there would be anything touching your pizza except cheese.
But aside from her struggles to stay vertical, I also noticed my grandniece using her mom’s smartphone. A lot. She watched videos mainly, and at one point I saw her tire of a particularly repetitive and annoying children’s YouTube channel called “simple songs” or something like that (I’m certain that it was being streamed from some government-authorized black site torture facility), stop the video, swipe down on YouTube and select a different (but equally grating) song on another channel. Remember, she’s 18 months old. She can only say about six words, and she doesn’t understand a toilet quite yet, but she can use a smartphone. And she doesn’t just watch it – she navigates its interface.
For all of the people out there who say things like “the world was a better place before smartphones” and “I remember when kids used to go out and play” and “people don’t interact anymore,” you might as well save your breath. You aren’t going to change my grandniece’s mind, you’re just going to sound like an old person who is out of touch with the world. (Side note – remember watching Saturday morning cartoons for five hours straight? How is that better than looking at a smartphone? At least you interact with a smartphone once in while. My sister and I barely said a word to one another as we packed Cap’n Crunch into our faces like sugar-addicted hamsters.)
When I pointed this out to her grandmother (my sister-in-law), she told me that my grandniece once located the family iPad, turned it on and navigated to a video of Elmo. By herself. Now I’d like to think my grandniece is a genius (and her parents are both very bright), but I’m confident that you can find 18-month-olds like this all across this fine country of ours.
A few days later, my dad, who turns 80 this year, used his own smartphone to show me some photos of a fishing trip that my brother-in-law recently took (my friends who live in Minnesota and call northern pikes “snakes” would have been mortified). Talk about two ends of the spectrum! The 18-month-old enjoyed the connectedness of a smartphone and so did the 80-year-old.
It’s time to stop pining for the old days, because we’re absolutely, positively never going back. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but it is reality, and it’s probably best if we all get on board with it instead of complaining. That way we can all sing “The Wheels on the Bus” together, which makes it a lot easier to listen to.