Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Real "Digital Divide"

After an exciting afternoon at the dentist, hair cuts, and an attempt at a civilized meal out, the kids and I still had to get groceries before our hour long journey home. This is the reality of living in the middle of Nowhere. When you get to the city -- you have a lot to get done while you are there. Needless to say by the time the grocery shopping portion of our evening rolled around my kids were at the end of their rapidly fraying rope (and their mothers rope had deteriorated into a pile of strings long before then).

In an attempt to make the chore go a little bit better I pulled out all the stops both my iPhone and ipod touch. We now keep track of our shopping lists on a great little app called Shopper, so I handed the iPhone to my 6 year old son so he could read the shopping list. He valiantly sounded out the items, eager to flex his new reading muscles. The four year old quickly took over the ipod touch. She was engrossed in an app from the International Children's Digital Library called Storykit. She was drawing pictures to chronicle our day in a "virtual" book. Everyone was happy -- well except maybe my 9 year old who didn't have a device -- but it was pretty much as good as it gets given the circumstances.

Then it happened. I was happily going up and down the aisles and we met another family trudging down the aisle. I gave the big smile and nod to the other mom (as is customary here) but her eyes never really left the devices in my children's hands. She did manage a half a smile but then after she passed she gave the "tsk tsk" head shake. The head shake that says "what in the world has happened to parenting today -- she can't even take her kids out shopping without plugging them into a square box."

You'll be happy to know that I resisted the urge to chase her down and explain that my kids were engaged in worthwhile activities. I know that if my son had been carrying a paper shopping list and my daughter had been equipped with a notebook and paper I would have been met with an entirely different reaction. I can't help but wonder when this digital prejudice will end? When will activities be judged on their merit instead of the medium in which they are taking place? Is this difference in attitude towards technology the real "digital divide"?

I'm still struggling for balance in my own home. I still find myself giving unlimited time for colouring at the kitchen table and cutting short the time they spend creating pictures on the computer, allowing more time to read books than given to create them in gdocs, but I'm trying. My grocery store experience has shown me how far I have come, but also made me mindful of the prejudices I still hold. So as my children open their shiny new netbook on Christmas morning (SHHH don't tell) I will continue to challenge my own prejudices. Honouring how they choose to create, communicate and learn (without discrimination) won't be easy .. but is far more valuable than any device I'll ever place in their hands.