Sunday 04 Dec 2016

Digital Divide
David Simmonds

I didn’t believe it when a friend told me she had received an overseas call on an iPhone from her four-year-old granddaughter, without her mother’s assistance. Now, I do.

That’s because, as the New York "Times" reports, “more than a third” of children eight years and younger use iPhones, iPads and Android devices; that's more than a third. Eight years and younger, that's incredible. The "Times" also reports that the most back-ordered toy last year was a tablet computer for children called the LeapFrogLeapPadExplorer. A short while ago, the "Globe and Mail" ran a feature on the favourite playlists, digital, of course, of the four-year-old children of hip parents. Four years old, that's incredible.

One is inclined to scream, where is the time for innocent childhood? What happened to the cuddly teddy bear? Trashed at the altar of digital progress, I suspect. Is adolescence now a condition that begins as early as age 4 and continues as late as age 35?

I guess we only have ourselves to blame. If we let our own lives run by instant contact methods, why should we expect anything different from our children? And maybe I’m looking at all this through the wrong end of the moral-judgment-o-scope, Maybe the shocking statistic is that ‘over two thirds of adults over the age of 55 years do not have a cell phone’, or that ’50 per cent of all seniors do not know how to Tweet.’ Still, I’m going to stick with my thesis and avoid waylaying by blaming the innocent aged, with whom I include myself, of course.

You have to figure that the toy industry is trying to stay on top of the digital trend. It is. Mattel, for example, is getting hip to the action by equipping its new Barbie doll with a built in camera that displays the picture, as taken, right on her t-shirt. Monopoly now features a computerized cash management system, together with digitized Chance and Community Chest cards. You can well imagine the products coming down the pipe: a crib toy that measures the size of a baby’s smile and responds by intensifying the appropriate signal or a 3D device that allows toddlers to practice virtual walking before they walk for real. I shudder to think about the alarming powers of creative minds.

Another toymaker’s “Spy Net Multi Vision Goggles” can perform “serious surveillance” up to military standards, it says in the "Times." “Serious” is maybe the key word to seeing all this in a positive light. When we get right down to it, we have to be brutally honest and say that we rarely surf, text, twitter or whatever, to scoop out and pass on valuable information. More often than not, it’s just a diversion or play. We become addicted to it, and wish we weren’t. That’s tantamount to admitting it’s not necessary.

Play does not come comfortably to adults. For children, play is what life is all about. So maybe the digital world should belong to them. After all, none of us would trust important computer repairs to any over 15 or so, and most of our dot-com billionaires seem to be, or act as though, they are about that age as well. 

My five-year-old pal, Luc, has a set of self-propelled beetles armed with sensors that prevent them from bumping into corners, so that they just scurry round the beetle-pen all day until he turns them off. It’s probably the same technology used in the self-guided vacuum cleaner, which is picking up sales steam. Heck, we still have to plug them in, empty the dust out and put them away. Intelligent beetles sound to me like a much more appropriate use of the technology than vacuum cleaners.

Maybe we’d all be a lot better off to classify our cell phones, iPods, IPads and the like as children’s toys, and suffer the guilt and shame more overtly if we continue to play with them.

If we did, that would free us up as adults to discharge our obligation to the non-digital toys of the past abandoned by our children, the Meccanos, Legos, Mr. Potato Heads and Lionel Trains of our youth. If our children aren’t interested in them, it is our adult duty to provide them with good homes and show them love, by using them. That would not be playing with them, of course. It would be demonstrating our emotional depth and our ability to multitask.

As for me, I’m after showing my maturity by going to the attic to find my old Slinky toy. It needs some love. 

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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