Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Rise of Technology; The Fall of Authority

There comes a time when confidence evolves into self-satisfaction, which evolves into smugness, which evolves into downright hubris.

I've written about hubris before (with regard to airport security and pierced ears). It's a concept that has stayed with me since Mr. Zarker's Greek and Roman Comedy course back at Tufts umpteen years ago. 

(Yes, "umpteen" is a real word. As is "hubris.") 

Hubris is what happens when someone is so boastful, so sure of his or her superiority, that they momentarily forget that they are a mere mortal. This, naturally, pisses off the gods and our hero or heroine comes to a rather bad end. Whether she knew the term or not, my Scottish grandmother believed in hubris. "Pride goeth before a fall, Jimmy," she warned my father when he got into art school, when he got his first Broadway show. Luckily, my dad wasn't quite so superstitious. Or Greek. (Or Catholic.)

Well, I've been guilty of some hubris of my own with regard to monitoring my teen daughter's use of technology. We were fairly early adopters (my daughter would disagree) and fairly generous with the devices (again, my daughter would disagree). She got her first iPhone when she turned 13 at the beginning of middle school. As with any acquisition of something she was desperate to have, there was peace. She learned that beloved little device inside and out. It wasn't long before the grownups were going to her for tech support.

Nevertheless, we had rules. Her MacBook (my old laptop from work, reconditioned for her) already had parental controls on it. She had a prescribed, limited number of hours per day (slightly more on weekends) and the thing shut off — snap! — at 8:00 pm each night. Any additional screen time required a password that I, and I alone, knew.

We thought we could manage the iPhone in a similar — if more analog — way. The rule was: all phones (my husband's and mine, as well as hers) were plugged in and powered up in the kitchen. No phones in bedrooms overnight. And, for the first couple of years, we enforced the same 8:00 pm curfew on the iPhone. This is where my own hubris comes in.

Other mothers would wring their hands over their daughters' non-stop texting. ("Oh, we set rules early on," I'd brag. "We have parental controls. We have device curfews." Yada yada yada. Hubris, hubris, hubris.) Then ...

High school!

Everything changed. Suddenly, my daughter needed Internet access late into the night. What ever happened to textbooks and mimeographed handouts? With all due respect to saving the rainforest, it was a lot easier to parent before homework went digital.

Okay, so she needs her laptop. I can still be strict about the phone right? Wrong! You see, today's "smart" phones make yesterday's rules seem downright "dumb." Here are all the reasons why she needs ("neeeeeeeeds") her iPhone on those late homework nights:

• Her phone is now her stereo. Good-bye CDs. It's all about iTunes and streaming digital radio. And, bien sûr, she simply must have her music to study.

• Her phone is now her camera. This is germane because she often takes pictures of pages from her ridiculously heavy textbooks rather than lug those same books home.

• Her phone is how she communicates with classmates when they have questions about assignments or are working on a team project. They group text, the teen equivalent of a conference call or (God forbid) an actual live get-together.

And, last but not least, her phone is an Internet browser. If I suggest that she use the laptop for research rather than the phone, she rolls her eyes to say "You don't get it." Apparently I don't.

The thing is, even if I enforced the no-phone rule and allowed her to use the laptop, we would be in the same pickle. Her laptop is an Internet browser, of course. But, it's also a portal to Facebook and all her other social media. With Skype and LiveChat, it's also a phone. Basically, the promise of convergence that helped create (and eventually pop) the dot com bubble is alive and well in my daughter's bedroom. This creates much convenience for the teens and much confusion (and consternation) for the parents.

So the question is ... the next time I need her to "get to bed already," do I call her? Text her? Skype her? Post it on her Facebook wall? 

Nah. I'm an analog girl; I'll just yell up the stairs.

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