Digital Cat’s in the Cradle

Starting in the 1980s, we began to hear parents and others express concern about the impact of video games upon children. Concerns about the negative impact of television and/or the motion picture started long before that, even back in the 1930s with the Payne Fund Studies. How will all of this impact the the lives and social skills of youth? The focus was largely upon the impact on youth. Now it seems as if the attention has grown to the parents as well. In the old Cat Stevens song, Cat’s in the Cradle, we hear about a busy dad. Each time the son wanted to play ball, the dad explained that he didn’t have time…but soon. And the son dreamed of growing up to be just like his dad. The song ends years later, with the son grown up and too busy to spend time with his aging dad. “And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me he’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”

I’m sure that the the message of the song has just as much relevance for many of us moms and dads today, but now there is another angle to it. Picture mom and/or dad, right in the room with the kids, but just as “remote” as the parent who had to go out of town on business. Cell phones the the Net make all of that more possible than ever. Perhaps images like the one below come to mind.

Now consider growing up in such an environment. Of course, there is a good measure of this phenomena that isn’t new. The television has been in homes for years. However, we do have new connectivity devices that converge various aspects of life (entertainment, work, family time, etc.) In such a world, how does a 1 or 2 year old child experience this type of an exchange? How easy or difficult is it for a child to make sense of this? And what sense does the child make of it? Is there a risk of the child seeing the parent as devoting far greater concentration and attention to “devices” while rarely giving such focused attention to interactions with them? How does this impact the beliefs and values of a child? All of this reminds me of Sherry Turkle’s new book, Alone Together, where she notes that people are increasingly treating objects like people and people like objects.

Posted in editorials, ethics

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is the author of Missional Moonshots, Assistant Vice President of Academics, Associate Professor of education, and a frequent keynote speaker and consultant on topics related to educational innovation and entrepreneurship, futures in education, and the intersection of education and digital culture. Opinions expressed here do not reflect those of his primary employer(s).