Tracy Grant
Tracy Grant
Momspeak Columnist

How technology brought me closer to my kids

Anne Curry opened the “Today” show recently with a tease that went like this:

“Have you heard about the viral video Kony 2012? If not, your teenager has.”

Tracy Grant

Writes Momspeak, a column on raising teenagers and other parenting issues, and edits KidsPost.

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Indeed the only reason I knew about Invisible Children and Joseph Kony was that one of my 16-year-old sons had told me the night before, “You have to watch this; it’s all anyone is talking about.”

Last month, what “everyone was talking about” was a video showing how Google glasses would work. You really do have to see it to believe it, but imagine putting on a pair of glasses that would allow you to see a poster for a concert and remind you to order tickets. Or glasses that tell you about subway delays as you approach a station.

A snippet from a post-dinner conversation on the topic:

Me: “With these, you’d never not multi-task. You would never simply look at a sunset.”

Andrew: “Mom, you always want to stand in the way of technology.”

Christopher: “But see how helpful it would be to know that the Metro was closed?”

We went on ping-ponging like that for 20 minutes.

Christopher: “There have always been new things that blew people’s minds, like the car.”

Me: “But in the past 10 years technology has accelerated at such a pace that we’re not able to understand all the ramifications.”

Andrew: “Why would you want us, as a people, not to advance in every way we can?”

Me: “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.”

The fact that we didn’t reach common ground on whether Google glasses were the coolest or the creepiest thing we had ever seen mattered less than the fact that we had an intellectually rigorous debate about the implications of a digital life.

We talked, we laughed, we argued sitting in the most analog setting you can imagine: a suburban family room. But we did it because of technology.

Much has been written about how isolating technology is. Earbuds are everywhere; most of our 4,762 “friends” are people we couldn’t recognize if we passed them on a street. The impact of technology on family relationships has been explored in places as diverse as the front page of the New York Times and the Dunphy residence on “Modern Family.”

But I am here to praise technology, not to bury it.

I headed down to the basement not long ago and heard the strains of Kansas’s 1976 single “Carry On My Wayward Son.” What the heck was going on?

There was Christopher mouthing the words, head bobbing. “It came up on my Pandora station,” he explained. “I’m totally into the power rock bands of the ’70s and ’80s . . . Kansas, Journey, the Eagles.”

When I informed him that I once had to write a paper about the religious symbolism in “Carry On My Wayward Son” and how it was really meant to be a conversation between Jesus and the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, I got an exaggerated eye roll followed by “Way to kill the moment, Mom.” But he said it with a smile.

Pandora is for music what Amazon’s “you might also like” is for books. It plays songs that it thinks you might enjoy based on a “station” that you have chosen. It is also a technology that has provided another touch point with my sons.

Christopher opined that the James Taylor cover of “Cat’s in the Cradle” is better than the original Harry Chapin version. (He’s wrong, but he’s young.)

After that, we somehow segued into a discussion of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which inevitably led to a viewing of the YouTube video of a DUI suspect in a Canadian police car singing the Queen classic in its entirety. By the time it was over, we were all laughing so hard that we missed what the Canadian officer said to the suspect.

Do I hate that I sometimes have to compete with technology for my kids’ attention? Absolutely. Do I impose “tech-free” periods where we do such outrageous things as walk the dog in the woods? You betcha.

But for better or worse, technology is their ground, their comfort zone. And when I meet them there, I’m sometimes surprised at how much common ground we share.

Grant is the editor of KidsPost.

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