when we drive In the summer we drive to Pennsylvania while my daughters are glued to their screens for miles through corn fields and blasted hills, and we go there to visit the relatives we left behind. In today’s parlance, we undertake these trips for personal contact or F2F contact. For my 7 year old Maeve rustling her grandmother’s many German shepherds, for her 3 year old sister Phoebe climbing on her grandfather Foo’s back and for the two falling into a proper heap with their uncle Ian and aunt lolo. But for most of the year, Maeve and Phoebe and their Philly family chat on FaceTime.
It’s very hard to underestimate the extent to which I specifically didn’t believe videophone technology would ever be a thing. Like many ambitious suburban teenagers, I experienced a phase of Twee-Luddism in the late 1990s. Inspired by the Beastie Boys, I bought dozens of vinyl LPs for 99 cents each and created a zine clip about indie music called ” The Electric Soul Potato[e] Together with my friends I asked for a manual typewriter for Christmas and got it. These were the general trends of white boys wearing a thrifty cardigan instead of a gas station shirt in my demographic, but my analog aesthetic was for a time animated by a genuine pessimism about technology in general. Partly as a stylistic choice, partly as a genuine belief, I remember talking quite casually about the silliness of pursuing things like voice activation, digital navigation, and, importantly, videophones. In the ’90s, my vision of the future was one in which I would spend millions of dollars trying to perfect even the smallest useful thing Jetsons-inspired technology that would never really work.
It’s only now that I’m realizing that this popular culture of tech backlash that I embraced as a teenager was itself a screen-time phenomenon. The sentence screen time originated as a meme to scare parents about the dangers of too much TV for young children. The term as it is known today dates back to a 1991 Mother Jones article by opinion columnist Tom Engelhardt. Until now, screen time had referred to how long an actor appeared on screen in television and films. But Engelhardt reversed the meaning of the term in The Primal Screen. Screen time wasn’t a measure of what was happening on screen; It was a metric that evaluated us.
In recent decades, this definition has become definitive. For parents, assessing and regulating their children’s screen time has become an important part of their job. Whether one takes a hardline or agnostic stance, it has become a central aspect of modern parenting, a choice like deciding whether to raise children religiously or when to allow them to have their ears pierced. how much is too much What do you see if I’m not paying attention? what could they see Who could see her? We worry about what our children see. We worry about what might happen on our screens when we watch them.
The teenagers who, like me, brought their antique Olivetti typewriters to cafes to write Vonnegut-esque short stories are the same teenagers whose adolescence was first ruled by this particular parenting movement. We were the kids who were told screens were bad for them, banned from watching TV, or overreacted in response. However, I doubt anyone in that group would have made the list obedience to parents What strikes me as a particularly high priority is that at least part of this allergic reaction to sophisticated digital technology — technology that Apple was making ever more sophisticated by the day in a way that would eventually take us away from our tech-free purity — was about being in growing up in a cultural moment defined by the evilness of screens. Maturity means the ability to discern.
But as it turns out, my teenage self was wrong. At least FaceTime works. Or rather, FaceTime’s technology works. The user experience can be a little buggy.
The girls’ use of FaceTime went through several phases. The first stage was the easiest. The child – in this case Maeve – is a small, wrapped dumpling. My partner Mel could call her mom or sister and magically have a normal conversation, with Maeve live on the screen instead of her own face. What if I told you that you could talk to your own daughter but could only see uninterrupted video of your child? greatDaughter? The future is now! That’s the excellent deal Gram did back then. But then Maeve got restless, a worrying wrinkle in our FaceTime dynamics: we couldn’t keep her on screen.
From there, Maeve entered late infancy. She was still fidgety but had better motor skills and a flexible, inquisitive mind. At this point there was a paradigm shift: we just gave her the phone. Her framing instinct wasn’t fully developed, so these images often consisted of the parting of her forehead at the bottom of the screen, a sweeping shot of our ceiling fan, or maybe just a close-up of her nostril. But without doing too much ageism here, her grandparents weren’t much better. This was particularly true of her GG Pap, My Grandfather who was still around and always made sure to have his iPhone in hand whenever Maeve called. (Even now, years after his death, his contact is listed as “iOpa” on my phone.) One of the most enduring images I can conjure up of him is that of 4-year-old Maeve happily chattering about kindergarten during she’s holding a phone that showed a screenshot of my grandfather’s right eye with an inset of Maeve’s right eye. Look out, look in.