My Son Wants an iPad …
The optimistic opener: my son, almost 6, wants to be a vet when he grows up.
The downturn at the end: his “one wish” is for an iPad on the weeks that he spends with me. (The backstory: it’s his birthday in a couple weeks and he gets to create a “celebration of life” poster to tell his classmates about his life.)
In this world chock full of stimulating electronic media, he’s had plenty of opportunity to notice their magnetic allure, and to get hooked into the attention economy before he even has a fully developed brain.
The attention economy is an economic system that treats attention – in this case, eyeballs looking at screens – as a scarce commodity, and the intense competition is for your finite attention.
There are societal precedents for how to moderate this sort of thing; we no longer allow Big Tobacco to market to children, because marketing an addictive substance to children that don’t have the mental faculties to discern marketing from reality (and to hook children on a harmful choice) strikes us, collectively, as unethical.
I think that there’s a compelling case to be made for some legislation to protect children (or anyone else who is clearly vulnerable to manipulation) from targeting by companies using the highly stimulating, addictive properties of screens to set the hooks of media in deep, but I have no idea how to legislate that.
As a society, we let the availability of technology get ahead of our thinking about technology, and now it’s virtually impossible to put the cat back in the bag.
That all being said, I understand my son’s plea for direct access to video streaming and online games. He has regular access to that sort of addictive brain candy elsewhere, and, look, we all have experienced the powerful pull of electronic media.
So part of my challenge as a parent is teaching my son how to self-regulate around addictive opportunities, whether it’s sugary snacks or hyper-stimulating media. If only the rest of us had it all sorted out, too.
The world is full of addictive options, and part of our Work is learning how to self-regulate our emotions and our choices with relative ease. (And no, my boy is not getting an iPad.)
How do you handle this with your children?