So how did I become one of those parents? You know, the kind who are always telling their kids about how tough times were back when we were young, when we only had five TV channels, and there were no DVRs, and the phones were all tethered to the wall by odd springy cables. If anyone who lived through the Depression ever hears me talking like that, you have my permission to walk over and whack me with your cane.
Still, that’s just what I find myself doing when my 10-year-old daughter insists that she wants — wait, scratch that — she needs a cell phone, despite the fact that, as far as I can tell, there’s no one she needs to talk to; she certainly doesn’t have any interest in acknowledging the existence of our house phone. (Of course, neither do I — whatever those callers want from me, it’s probably nothing good.)
No, apparently what she needs to have is the (presumably God-given) ability to text, along with various other “smartphone” extras. This is a fairly foreign concept to me, since until my company issued me a Blackberry as part of its plan to bind me to my job like Gulliver was tied down to the beach by the Lilliputians, I had a phone that basically just made phone calls. Apparently it could text, but I never used that function because, one, my thumbs were too large, and two, you couldn’t text for a pizza, which comprised my central use for the device.
In fact, when I showed the phone to my daughter and my 13-year-old nephew, they looked at it sort of like people in the ’70s must have looked at pet rocks. (Yes kids, that’s how tough my childhood was — our pets were rocks!) It’s a nice little novelty, they seemed to be thinking, but it doesn’t really DO anything.
But her request has me more than a little torn. On the one hand, I managed to survive my childhood with no means of outside communication whatsoever, save the occasional pay phone. On the other hand, giving my daughter a cell phone would be a good start to my plan for her as a teenager, which is to have her wired for sound like an FBI stoolie.
And it’s not like we’re not already on our way to being a technologically enhanced family. My son, who’s 8, somehow sweet-talked his way into getting a “PSP” this Christmas, which is a device that can house music, videos, photos and videogames featuring actual tiny little humans. After seeing only the top of my son’s head for days, we had to come up with some PSP ground rules, such as no more playing when it became apparent that he’d entered a trance-like state, and no bringing it in the kitchen so he wouldn’t wind up covering it with ketchup. (We had to institute that last rule for pretty much everything.)
As for my daughter, we’ve reached a temporary compromise that if she goes out with a friend and needs to keep in touch, she can take my old pet rock phone. And if she goes over the texting limit she has to pay the charges out of the allowance we give our kids as a thank-you for the short breaks when we’re not acting as their butler.
Sure, it’s no “smartphone,” but it does the job, and its inadequacy will give her something she’ll eventually be able to complain to her kids about. If she can learn how to communicate in their strange telepathic squeaks, that is.
This column appeared originally in West of Boston Life Magazine and North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”