I’m an aspiring journalist, and I have been for years, but despite recently completing a couple of courses, and writing as much as I can for this blog, I think that the dream will always be a little out of reach. I have, however, signed up to various mailing lists in order to attract possible articles and as a result I get no end of perky PR agencies sending me emails as though they are long lost friends wanting to catch up with me and make my day perfect. Beyond the faux friendly introductions and the chirpy language, there’s ordinarily some terrible, zeitgeisty, of the moment fashion crap they want to tell me about which, as a cynical old Luddite, is wasted on me.
My usual response is to swiftly hit the delete button or, if I’m feeling particularly energetic, I write back and tell them to delete me from their list. Sometimes I even put my name, but even that is wasting precious seconds of my life on them (clearly, the journalistic career is doomed). However, the gradual build up of mindless press release on mindless press release is attritional, and it was inevitable that one day I’d have to write back and tell them that their product sucked.
This particular product was a ‘digital activity pack’ for kids which is aimed at ‘entertaining children while they’re travelling on the plane to Lapland’, which seemed like a very niche market to me (and probably a very affluent niche market). The pack would contain things like, ‘Dot to Dot’, ‘Spot the Difference’ or ‘How to Make a Hot Chocolate’.
Oh dear. I’ve long been frustrated by the apparent progression of our society. Progress is indeed inevitable, but that’s not to say that it’s necessarily good. It seems that we are hell-bent on going digital despite it’s many, many problems: the expense of hardware; the speed of innovation, which makes recent purchases instantly obsolete; the inability of less well off people to access digital products; the contributions that this inequality make to bullying, peer pressure and petty crime; the expectation that anything can be had quickly, easily and cheaply, if not for free and the longer term infrastructure issues such as whether we can actually cope with the exponential increases in the use of digital data in terms of transfer, storage and protection.
But the point here is children’s education. I’m really not sure of the merits of giving a digital activity pack – and I’m assuming here that this means some kind of download on a tablet or similar – to a kid on a long flight. I know that many adults are conditioned to look at screens all day and feel pretty miserable about it, but that’s no reason to make kids do the same. The activities mentioned by the press release are standard features of the average kids magazine (although anyone is going to be hard pushed to follow a hot chocolate recipe on a plane) and a simple pencil and paper – apart from being many times simpler, cheaper, more accessible and more readily understood by a child – would seem to imply to me a little more interaction between child and parent. Any parent should be preparing for a long flight with lots of things for the family to do and not relying on plonking a screen in front of them and telling them to get on with it. My head spins with the direction implied in even considering that a screen is an adequate response to seeing a child through a long flight.
My own daughter starts school this week, and in touring schools prior to shortlisting, the use of IT, iPads and computers was a key concern of ours. Our kids see us using these things and copy; and they learn fast. But my childhood was full of playing in the street, mixing with the other kids on the road of many ages, making dens in the local field, playing football and cricket, climbing over building sites and through empty buildings, taking the knocks and the grazes and learning to be independent. Today I see parents keeping their kids in, moaning about paedophiles, never letting them go to the park on their own or with their friends, afraid to play in the street, afraid to kick a ball because the neighbours are worried about damage to their wing mirror, traffic too dense and too fast to allow kids to be outside. They’re unwittingly being forced inside, towards these screens and we’re just happy to watch it happen. Even the schools say they want to maximise time away from IT, but are introducing iPads to the classroom without a policy on how much time is appropriate for their use.
Naturally, I don’t have an answer for this, and I suspect there isn’t one but we do seem to be slipping comatose into world where children are increasingly detached from society, where some parents clearly think that giving them a digital activity pack is a good thing and where the kids don’t actually have the ability, confidence or opportunity to ask questions, interact and become rounded adults. As a parent, it’s a real worry.