If you really think about it, Steve Jobs sort of changed our lives forever when Apple released the first iPod in 2001, abolishing our beloved HitClips.
Before iPods and iPads and iPhones, HitClips were among the most technologically advanced toys that we owned. Why would I want to listen to full songs and playlists when I could have my HitClips blast 60 seconds of low-quality DreamStreet into my ears?
One of its biggest competitors was the Tamagotchi; there was something so magical about having a virtual pet to feed, care for and love constantly through elementary school. Nintendo rivaled with the N64 and Game Boy; if you haven’t played some form of a Pokemon game on these devices, you haven’t lived.
While we certainly obsessed over all of these brilliant devices as they came out, our generation thrived on so many other forms of entertainment. We grew up loving to get our hands dirty both indoors and outdoors. If we were stuck inside on a gloomy weekend, we were baking goopy little cakes with our EasyBake ovens. We were constantly playing with weird craft or jewelry kits to create rubbery insects or tacky anklets. If playing outside was an option even in the least bit, we were trolling the neighborhood until dusk. Chalk art and Skip It’s covered sidewalks while Super Soakers and popped water balloon remnants littered lawns.
But times have changed.
The average age of receiving an iPod or iPad or iPhone is continuously dropping. I babysit for a two, four and six-year-old. Each has an iPad, and that’s perfectly normal these days. I still watch in amazement as the two-year-old flips through his downloaded apps to find YouTube; if the kid knew how to spell (or speak in full sentences, for that matter) he would absolutely be able to work an iPad better than I can.
Of course kids these days still play outside and have their own set of odd toys they love, just like us ‘90s kids did. They even still play with some of the classics that we had, like Legos and Polly Pockets. I think the biggest difference is that so many of their toys revolve around technology, and they know they always have that option of playing on their iPads or with their moms’ iPhones instead.
Our obsession with and reliance on technology reflects onto the youth of our generation. With our continually evolving society, it’s inevitable. Kids are just as technologically obsessed as adults are. As adults, we rely so much on technology now that we probably don’t even realize it half the time.
Our iPhones are our best friends—or, at the very least, personal assistants. They wake us up in the morning to that oh-so-lovely Marimba tone. They give us directions on the spot when we’re lost on the highway. They remind us when we have a haircut between classes. They will never let us forget Mom’s birthday (as long as you remember to set a reminder, of course). They calculate tips for our waiters at happy hour. They entertain you with your favorite playlists as you endure a grueling workout. They help you capture an unbelievable sunset … or the ugliest selfie you can possibly take. They keep you updated with all 27 of your social media and email accounts. If you download the right apps, they can even help you get a date for Friday night. Can you think of better qualities in a friend?
I caught myself sitting in class the other day using my Macbook laptop, iPad and iPhone all at once: taking notes from lecture on one, browsing Pinterest for dinner recipes on one and texting on the other. Only one of the three devices was being used for something productive, but they were consuming all of my focus nonetheless (meaning I had no focus on the lecture, resulting in subpar notetaking).
I felt spoiled when I realized I was on three Apple products at once, but then I thought about how typical this is for so many adults these days. Of course I’m unbelievably fortunate to have all of these devices at my disposal, and I recognize that; I’ve seen the poorest of the poor in my travels abroad, and it’s made me that much more grateful for what I have. But so many adults do have the same opportunity, and it’s actually awesome that we take full advantage when we can.
Over the past few years, schools have caught onto the concept of using these technological advancements for academic use. I vividly remember my excitement in third grade (13 years ago, holy crap) when I first checked out a clunky black Dell laptop to bring home for the weekend; I can’t imagine how cool it is for kids these days to use iPads in school everyday. Some schools even assign an iPad to each student to use for an entire year, both in school and at home.
Education systems are making huge strides in teaching kids that technology can be more than just a means of entertainment. Teachers are showing students what apps to download for every school subject; there’s Word Magic to work on spelling, Stack the States to practice geography and Tic Tac Math to improve math skills. It makes me wish I could’ve played games to study in elementary school … hell, even in college! On top of help from teachers, many schools are sending lists of recommended academic apps to parents for ideas of what to download for their kids. This really highlights how amazing technology can be for productive means, even for the youngest generation.
It’s all about how we choose to use it: for good or for evil; for productivity or for entertainment. Not that the entertainment side of these devices is evil (unless you’re referring to Netflix during finals week), but it oftentimes overshadows the productive side. Kids don’t usually have a choice. It’s up to their parents to take the initiative to establish guidelines and teach good habits with technology use.
As for us? The adults? It’s all on us.
We don’t have anyone to tell us when our Candy Crush time is up and when it’s time to switch over to flash cards instead. We have a choice, and sometimes it’s hard to make the right one. Technology is going to continue to advance and will only keep getting cooler and cooler, so finding that balance of “good and evil” is key.
Kids today will deal with this same balancing act as they’re growing up. In a way, we’re kind of lucky that our biggest struggle as kids was trying to make our Furby shut up in the middle of the night. The youth of our generation gets to (or rather has to) deal with all facets of technology, both the good and the bad. We’re a technologically obsessed culture, and that’s just the way we work and play.
Anne Gaslin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.