My daughter did not do so well on her first math tests at school. Neurotic professor mom that I am, I quickly went on Amazon to buy up all the books so I could tutor her in 1st grade math (I even learned what a rectangular prism was-- I swear that wasn’t a shape when I went to school). However, when I started working with her, I realized the material was not the problem. It turns out she was being tested via computer, and she had no idea how to navigate using the mouse. She needed a digital education. As I am a communication professor, my friends made fun of me-- the old “shoemaker’s child never has shoes” phenomenon, they said.
Her lack of technology prowess has not been an accident. It’s too late for her older brother; he’s caught the tech/geek bug. Last year, I read in the New York Times about a Kaiser Foundation study that found that poorer children spend more “wasted” time on games and other technology than more economically advantaged children. While my son luckily does not fall into the “poorer child” category, almost every time I see him, he’s behind a screen. Whether it’s our TV, my husband’s iPad, my laptop, the Wii or his Nintendo DSI (neither of which I bought), or his nana’s iPhone, that kid can unearth a screen wherever he is. I beg him to shut them off. Plead with him to put them away. I make strict limits on his use of technology (no video games on weekdays, no screens before bed, etc.), but he keeps gravitating there.
My son is pretty possessive, which in this case is positive because he doesn’t share his screens with his sisters, so they’ve had to find other things to do. They look at books, put on pretend shows, play outside, and have fun with their puzzles or dolls. In short, they play like I used to when I was a kid, and I love it. Therefore, when they have occasionally whined that they don’t have a chance to play on the Wii or laptop, I just tell them to find another activity. I have assumed that less screen time would foster more imaginative time. Now, I wonder if I’ve perpetuated a digital divide. My son can take his test assessments with no trouble. Am I biased towards an oral/print world? To me, does the screen symbolize less learning?
In my classes, I let my students have laptops and even tolerate their texting to some degree, but I do think most learning is better without those mediations. Perhaps we should add to the conversation about the digital divide a parallel discussion about finding a digital balance.