Swipe left

In essence, smart tech enables us to swipe left on life.

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving to Toronto with a close friend and fellow blogger, Helena (who happens to be coming over for dinner tonight to save me from drowning in the beautiful abundance from Henceforth Farm). And as the stifling Torontonian traffic on the  401 ground the wheels of Eggplant (this is the name of my car) to a halt, our conversation picked up – as if to compensate for the loss of stimulus on the road.

I forget who asked the question, as apart from our taste in books, our minds seem to be the other’s mirror image. But the question I do remember.

We tugged at the issue from different angles and distracted ourselves from the drag of traffic with sufficient success. Yet even as I eventually pulled away from the congested stretch behind me at 160 km/h, I couldn’t shake the topic from my head.

When you become a parent, at what age will you give your child a smartphone?

This is more than the (perhaps simpler) question of “Is Technology Good or Bad”, so we’ll start there. As long as you’re not some hypocritical hipster, or paranoid conspiracy theorist, I think we can agree that in general, the gains from technology far outweigh the faults. Or if you’re more moderate, at least you might agree that living sans tech would make one’s life unnecessarily tedious. (Try to plan high school reunion without a phone or computer.)

So technology has been good, in general, to humans. But how does it effect children specifically? Adam Alter‘s Irresistible was rather helpful.

To set the tone, might I cite Steve, as in the Steve Jobs who masterminded the i-suite.

They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.” He was referring to the iPad. And at the time of the interview, neither did is children use the iPhone.

This is more significant than the opinion of one person, albeit a very brilliant one. The i-suite did not happen by coincidence – they were designed, re-designed, engineered, re-engineered, tested, and re-tested until they found the best design in terms of user experience (whoa, buzzword!). All of this was hinged on Jobs’ exuberant obsession with detail and perfection. Jobs knew his products better than anyone – they were his brainchildren, so much so that his resignation on August 24, 2011 then death on October 5, 2011 both resulted in a significant drop in Apple’s share price. (I’m sure Steve was rolling in his grave when Apple launched those wireless buds.)

So what does that mean? It means Jobs knew exactly how an iPad or an iPhone effects the brain, because he was the architect behind every detail of the product – the fit of every curve, the placement of every icon, the smoothness of each swipe of the screen, which ultimately defines effects it has on the user.

And if he’s not giving it to his kid, something’s up.

But then you might say that since technology is so integrated into the daily functions of today’s society, by withholding smartphones from kids, you’re setting them up for isolation, irrelevance, and ultimately failure.

This is a valid concern, and it was certainly the hardest to wrap my mind around. I don’t want to raise a sociopath. I want my kids to be connected to others, to have meaningful relationships. I want them to know what’s happening in the world, to be aware of the times. I want them to have the relevant skills, so that they can be a contributing member of society.

But what do those things really mean? To me, being connected means cultivating meaningful relationships. Knowing what’s happening in the world means having a good set of values and thus being able to formulate a sensible opinion on what they read about. And having the relevant skills means giving them a resilient and curious mind so that they will be never stop learning.

No, a smartphone does not do that for a child.

A smartphone is a super computer that fits in the palm your hand, which makes it a super calculator on three shots of espresso, a bag of Sour Patch Kids, and God knows how many doses of steroids. And as  any math teacher knows, a student should not use a calculator until they know how to do the arithmetic by hand. And financial math textbooks will teach (with proofs!) you the formulas before showing you the instructions for using the presets into your financial calculator.

Similarly, smart technology is designed to make your life easy, to satisfy your wants in as little time as possible, and to reduce the frustration in your life. Google calendar remembers all your appointments for you, sometimes automatically. Wondering where to go for brunch? The most-reviewed restaurant will pop up at the top of your Yelp search. If you want to break up with your boyfriend, you don’t even need to set a time to meet up, just tag him in a meme.

In essence, smart tech enables us to swipe left on life, on the gritty and sticky bits.

It might be hella useful if you already know how to do life and be a functional, likable person. But it’s destructive for kids who have yet to acquire those critical life habits and skills, (which are naturally extremely difficult to learn given life’s unpredictability and our emotional weakness) because it provides a pseudo way out.

I don’t know about the 10% of parents who think it’s a good idea to give their kids smartphones before the age of 5, but I intend to raise a human being who will look me in the eye when I speak with them, who will know the peace of watching a late summer sunset, and will be compassionate enough to cry when a friend cries and laugh when a friend laughs, instead of responding with a pathetic “lol”.

Count it all joy, my brothers,

when you meet trials

of various kinds, for you know

that the testing of your faith produces

steadfastness.

And let steadfastness have its full effect,

that you may be

perfect and complete,

lacking in nothing.

James 1: 3-4

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Radish and Butter Toasts with Caviar

With only 5 ingredients, there’s really nowhere to hide. Use a good bread  – if you’re in the GTA, Blackbird Baking Co. is a no-brainer, otherwise look for a well-hydrated, naturally leavened sourdough. Use good radishes – seek them out at your local farmer’s market. Use good butter – unsalted, preferably grass-fed. Use good salt – I used black salt, because with the pink of the radishes it just looks that much better. Use good extra virgin – go for something creamy and sweet like Colavita, I wouldn’t do a spicy one, just because the radishes have some kick already. And caviar, which is optional, but really rounds out the toast. I used truffled kelp caviar, which is completely vegan and actually tastes really good.

Radish an Butter Toasts with Caviar

  • 2 slices sourdough bread
  • 2 tbsp softened butter
  • finely ground black salt
  • 2-3 radishes (french breakfast, cherry bomb, small turnips also work)
  • 1 tsp caviar
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  1. Butter your toasts right to the edge. Sprinkle lightly but evenly with salt.
  2. Slice the radishes thinly on a mandoline or with a sharp knife. Arrange the slices onto the buttered toasts.
  3. Dot the caviar randomly in small clusters on top of the radishes.
  4. Finish with olive oil.
  5. Serve immediately.
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