The day the digital died

We experienced a loss in our household this weekend. Like a cat, our Samsung Galaxy Tab seems to have had about nine lives. It’s survived multiple drops to the floor, a cracked screen, food and drink spillages and has had its charger replaced at least twice. Now it looks like it’s actually gone for good.

Toby confessed that a little pin fell out of the charging port and he tried to re-insert it, which explained why when I tried to plug in the charger it wouldn’t fit. It’s definitely a goner.

C’est la vie I say, I was unlikely to surpass that ridiculously tough level in Candy Crush anyway. The reaction from Toby was a little less nonplussed and more akin to losing a household pet.

The crying lasted an hour.

“I want to write RIP on a note and place it where the tablet died,” he mumbled in between sobs.

Joking aside I was a little disturbed by his reaction. It is not at all over the top to compare it to grief. To Toby, this is a serious loss, and perhaps another worrying sign of his dependency on digital gadgets at the ripe old age of six.

He’s not alone. The 2010 study The World Unplugged, surveyed 1,000 college students who had been asked to forgo the internet for 24 hours and uncovered a depth of dependency on social media and the like that was comparable to drug addiction.

Toby, of course, is too young for social media. But he does enjoy watching YouTubers on the tablet. These individuals offer him something I can’t – an authentic window to his interests. The tablet therefore becomes more than a gadget but something more personal, more human.

As adults, we aren’t setting the best example to the young people in our lives. We’re as transfixed by technology as they are, and the societal shift has been too rapid to ignore. As the teens have departed Facebook in search of something a little less commercial, we’ve filled the void, sharing with the world our baby pictures and tales of home improvement (no wonder the youngsters left).

I had previously been a late adopter to technology, refusing to update old-fashioned mobile phones simply because newer and shinier models had come on the market. I insisted that I was never going to introduce anything as crass as an iPad to my child and was proud that I spent time on the floor playing with him instead.

And then I saw an offer that was too good to be true. A smartphone and a tablet for an incredibly tempting price, and the rest is history.

At first I couldn’t work out the point of the tablet and contemplated putting it away on a shelf somewhere. But then I started fiddling with it while watching television and soon I couldn’t watch television without it. Why sit and stare at one screen of an evening when you can look at two?

Then we downloaded Angry Birds, then Candy Crush, and then Minecraft, and my young son was hooked. Better still, I found I was getting some housework done. I could enjoy a cup of tea uninterrupted. But soon screen time was taking over and I was beginning to feel like a prisoner in my own home, with attempts to drag my dearly beloved into the sunshine turning into fraught screaming matches.

Those days have gone, thankfully, and we’ve developed a far healthier approach to screen time, balanced with interests in sports, especially football.

But I stick to a few simple rules around screen use to make sure there are some clear boundaries:

  1. No tablet before school (a recent study shows it can effect concentration at school and based on school reports I’m not taking any chances with that one)
  2. No tablet at bedtime.
  3. Only age-appropriate games can be played (Toby is well aware of the Pegi ratings and so far this has been fine).

So will we be replacing the tablet? In a word yes, when I can afford it. It’s a tool that has become part of our family life, and it does offer us both pleasure and relaxation.

Experiencing loss is part of life – whether that’s losing a favourite toy, the death of a pet or a more tragic, painful kind of loss; the sort that can take months or years to get over.

Toby has so far bounced back from this “loss” after 24 hours but it certainly won’t hurt to make him wait for the replacement.

Judging on tonight’s behaviour when I was inundated with jokes and generally loud and constant nonsensical chatter, I may just about cave and buy him it sooner! Anything to watch a half-hour episode of Eastenders in peace!

But then just before bedtime he asked me something.

“Can we build Lego at the weekend?”

“Of course,” I said.

“I want to build a cruise ship. I’ll wake up early to start on it. I can do 20 pieces a day!”

So there you have it. After 24 hours without the tablet, we have rediscovered creativity, inspiration and motivation. I may declare our home a tablet-free zone for a little bit longer.

And if we ever do build that cruise ship, I’ll make sure I share it with the world on Facebook.

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