Most of you older readers will think I’m nuts when you read the next paragraph. The somewhat younger ones will get it, to a degree. Everyone under 25 will have no problem. Everyone under fifteen will be like, “duh!” I’ve been thinking about that, and a few other related things, for the past several months.
My wife, older daughter and her husband and I gave Selina, our 10-year-old granddaughter and niece, a smartphone for Christmas. Not just any smartphone. Because of the oddities of year-end merchandising, it was cheaper to get her a top-end device rather than a lesser one — one cent on Amazon, in fact, added to our family plan. I have the current state-of-the art model, a Galaxy S III. While I love it, I discovered after setting hers up, checking out the camera and apps, etc., that I could be quite happy with her Droid Razr M myself.
But why give a 10-year-old a phone of any kind? Simple. She needs it. Whaaaaat, you say. Are you nuts?
Attendez-moi. There are two reasons she needs a phone. The first is safety. Selina is a dancer. She’s been dancing since she was three, loves it, and takes it seriously. She has after school lessons and other activities away from home to which she can’t be accompanied by an adult all the time, and has sleepovers with other girls where, for one reason or another, she can’t always be reached. For those and other reasons, she needs to be able to communicate with family members pretty much 24/7. In addition to that, she’s tall for her age, with a dancer’s grace and figure, and is beautiful. She attracts a lot of attention. With her phone, she has access to family all the time, 9-1-1 if she needs it, and through Verizon’s Child Locator system we can track her to within a few feet any time we need to. Other apps provide back up to that ability.
The other reason is more complex, and social in a way that us oldsters have trouble understanding. Selina and her peers are true digital natives. They have never lived in a wired world. (Many, if not most, of today’s college students have never owned a cassette tape.) Electronic communication on demand is such a normal thing in their lives that they literally cannot imagine any other way to live.
Digital immigrants, like Grandpa, have other frames of reference. We still remember looking for pay phones when we needed to make a call away from home. Those as old as I remember hand-delivered telegrams and party lines. Those things are as alien and incomprehensible to today’s teens, tweens and their younger siblings as communication by jungle drums would have been to a “modern” citizen of the 1950’s. More so, in fact, because we could at least understand the reasons for them in parts of the world that lacked modern communication. These days, cell phones are a common facet of life in the most remote and impoverished parts of the world. In parts of Africa, they are the basis of a bush economy that functions by using cell phone minutes — easily transferable from place to place — as a form of currency. There literally are no reasons for other communication, anywhere in the world. Digital communication of various kinds is the backbone of civilization nowadays, whether we like it or not. It facilitates the world economy and every aspect of our lives from news to medical technology and information, to food production, transportation and distribution, to keeping track of our microchipped pets. It has supplanted letters sent by snail mail, and to a great degree has displaced greeting cards. My car contains 17 different computers that drive everything from its fuel injection and ignition to the satellite radio. Even the transmission is shifted by a computer. I just think I’m in charge.
This is the world our Tiny Dancer was born into and, beyond a certain point, being unwired (“unwirelessed,” really) actually stifles her ability to function within it. Our kids are different from us in ways unlike any in human history. Their digital environment has even affected the way their brains work, measurable and — surprisingly — superior in some ways to how ours clunk along. A handheld computer/phone is merely her next step into the world that we have left for her to live in. Like it or not, it’s simply part of her nature.