While I was on the subway, I wanted to find out what time it was. I long ago stopped wearing a watch, but I didn't feel like digging through my bag to find my phone. I saw that the teenager sitting next to me was wearing a watch, so I tried stealing a glance to see the time. Unfortunately, the watch was a little too far away and upside down for me to see. I turned to the stranger and asked him for the time. Once he finally took off his headphones and realized I had asked, he didn’t think to look at his watch but instead reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He checked the time on it and told me, before putting his headphones back on and ending our transaction.
This made me think about how the wristwatch has become obsolete: even when you still wear one, you aren’t conditioned to look at it. In my family, the ability to read an analog clock has always been something we celebrated by presenting our child with their very own watch. I’m wondering if my third child will even be interested in having a watch at all.
I’ve found a similar transformation with money. When my oldest child was younger, I was still making purchases with cash. He would have natural lessons in how to make change by witnessing our daily transactions. Contrast that with my daughter, who yesterday engaged in a troubling mathematical exercise with the ice cream man. She let me know in no uncertain terms that she needs to work on her change-making skills.
I wonder where are we getting the chance to practice these skills. Moreover, are they really so necessary in a world where you can have an app calculate the tip or you can pay for most services with a credit card? With our increased reliance on credit and debit cards to pay for everyday purchases, I’m finding it more difficult to teach my children the basic concept of money and, more importantly, the possibility of running out of it. Without seeing the dollar bills disappear, it’s more challenging to see money as a finite thing.
Ron Lieber discusses in his book The Opposite of Spoiled the value of teaching children about money and cautions against a society where parents avoid broaching the subjects of finance and wealth with children. I suspect, however, that the role of new technologies is playing a part in preventing us from having to understand the mechanics of things like time and money. My son never learned script, and while he still can’t sign his name, he knows how to work an automatic thumbprint reader on my iPhone (thanks again for setting that up for me, son).
Maybe signatures will be obsolete in the future, saving my son the trouble of having to learn to sign his name, but the skills of being able to think about money and time from a very basic perspective are ones I don’t want him to miss. So, I think I’m scheduling some “wayback” days, when my kids and I will focus on skills that I think our digital world discourages but we absolutely need. What skills would you add to the wayback list?
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