I am the mother of a screenager. That’s right. I said screenager, not teenager. A screenager is someone who has grown up in a digital landscape and spends most of their time in a digital world. When my second son was born in 1999, the Internet was just taking on life as a new way of doing things. But for Spencer and people born after him, the Internet wasn’t a new thing, it was just a thing that was always there. Having a screenager is a new experience for us. When our first son was at home, we didn’t even get a computer until he was in third grade. That computer wasn’t hooked up to the Internet for a long time and when it was, it wasn’t the experience kids today have on it. There were precious few sites for social networking at that time and connection and processor speeds were slow enough to make it a pretty frustrating and time-consuming experience trying to use the Internet in any useful way. But, fast forward a few years and the changes were huge! Not only is the internet accessible, but it’s now the way most people shop, communicate, research, interact, send and receive mail, look up phone numbers and addresses, make phone calls, and even do their banking. This is the landscape that Spencer has grown up in and boy does it move!
When I was a child, my life was predictable and routine. Unlike a lot of kids today, I grew up in the same house with both of my actual parents. I used my imagination to entertain myself when I was on my own, rode my bike, went swimming, had dinner with the family at 5.30p every night during the week when Dad got home from work. My social networking included: spending time with friends, playing with my siblings, having sleepovers, going to school, going to church and going out to dinner afterwards, and going to camp in the summers. Computers were basically unheard of in those years. Actually, I remember my Dad making me do math problems longhand instead of using a calculator saying, “You might not always have a calculator handy!”
My son’s life, however, is drastically different. The routine in his life is constant change. The technology he’s got in the palm of his hand is more than I ever could have imagined. On one device, he can tell you the weather in any location in the world, how long it would take you to get there, the customs of that area, the population, what kind of clothes to take, the best and least expensive way to get there, and plot a trip for you complete with car and hotel rentals setup, plane tickets bought, reservations made for dinner and a show, and tickets sent to that device all in about 7 minutes. This is not my world.
In my world, we played games growing up. We had games we played on our own like LEMON TWIST or ROMPER STOMPERS and we had board games we played with other people like MONOPOLY or CLUE. Some wonderful times were had when Dad would hit us fly balls to catch in the backyard or Mom would sit down for a game of Aggravation.
In Spencer’s world though, board games or even word games we used to play like I Spy or Hangman are archaic. I really have to struggle to get these in his realm. It was easier when he was little and I had a lot of control over what he did. I would sit down and play games with him like Ants in the Pants or Don’t Spill the Beans. But, though I fight its encroachment on our family life at every opportunity, the Internet has beaten me it seems. Now, they carry all their games around on their devices and there’s another way to play games now playing online with “friends.” I’m sorry. I have a problem with thinking of a person you’ve never met, never spoken to, and have no idea of their life situation as a ‘friend.’ But you see, that’s because I’m a Digital Immigrant and not a Digital Native like Spencer. A Digital Immigrant, I’m told, is someone who didn’t grow up in this digital landscape.
These I-Generation kids are used to information that comes flying at them from all directions from the moment they get up in the morning until the minute they fall asleep at night. They’re used to a lot more stimulation than we were. They’re a lot more expecting and a lot more demanding of their world. This could actually be a good thing. Generations that expect and demand generally create much change in their lifetimes. For all that we hear people bemoan the perils of the I-Generation, these kids are smart…probably smarter than us. Indeed, their brains are actually wiring themselves differently than ours adapting to the new world they inhabit. They can multi-task at a very young age. They can process information and make decisions in a snap. They aren’t scared to experiment with technology or anything else and they go out and find what they want to know faster than any of us ever could have using our encyclopedias or making a trip to the library. They deal with and understand a far-larger and more complex social network than we ever did and they learn (if they’re lucky) to consider possible long-term consequences of that far-reaching network out there much younger than us. If they have questions, they ferret out answers quite quickly. Finally, almost intuitively, they adapt to new things that come into their cyber world and under their power. I think that’s better than most of us do at this point with our fumbling thumbs and fingers trying desperately to make the small keys on our cell phones work or trying urgently to type e-mails and remembering what to click or how to attach or forward. For those of us raised on handwriting and licking stamps, the slickness of e-mail doesn’t seem real. It makes it hard for us to remember what we’ve already sent and who’s seen what.
But still, even using my digital cameras, my desktop computer, my touch-screen laptop, my mobile, and my GPS in the truck, in the end, I am still that immigrant to this digital world. I try and share with my son some games from the good old days when we go on ski trips to the resort where we sit around after a home-cooked dinner in our condo playing a family game of cards or 20 Questions or when we’re driving and I can regale him with a good game of Slug Bug or License Plates. But in the end, he is a Digital Native. His default is the world he was born into and he’s developing the skills to carry him forward into the world he’s going out into someday soon. I won’t be left behind so much as I’ll just not as progress as quickly as he does. But when the grandchildren come, I hope my boys know I’ll be sitting here waiting with some FaceTime just for them. My version of FaceTime…one-on-one, getting to know them and telling them stories about a world they can’t even imagine by then. Maybe we’ll even play a few card games just for the heck of it, huh?