How Much Technology Is Too Much?

Hi. I'm John Biggs and I'm a geek dad. I write about gadgets and computers and video games all day long for CrunchGear, The New York Times, and now The Stir. In this column I'm going to try to walk you through some of the cooler things that come across my desk. I'm coming at this as a father of two kids, a 2-year-old girl, M, and a 5-year-old boy, K. They're my test market. That's me, there, staring into my iPhone in Thessaloniki holding my young son. Not my proudest moment. 

A question I've asked myself over the years is how much technology is too much? I've wondered at which point is our obsession with gadgets and email and the Internet (and TV and movies and games and music) too much for adults and now, with K and M, I ask how much is too much for kids?


Here's the spoiler: there's no real answer. My wife and I don't want our kids to grow up addicted to technology but we, ourselves, can't wake up without reaching for the iPhone to check email. We want to limit TV and game time for K and M but we spend a few hours a night on Jon Stewart and other DVR favorites. I want my kids to have a love of reading but thus far it seems like the best way to keep them sane on long car and plane trips is to drop an iPad full of movies on their laps. We're hypocrites, but it's mostly because we feel a need to limit their exposure while accepting that our addictions, while troubling, are essentially harmless and, in some cases, necessary.

I keep reminding myself how my experience growing up was quite different than theirs. My wife and I both remember watching hours of TV -- at one point I could tell the time based on which re-runs were showing on my grandmother's old tube television -- and playing hours of video games. I was born in 1975 and I'd say my generation was the pre-digital generation, the first generation to stand on the precipice of interactivity and whoosh down it into totally immersive media. When I was 8, I had a game machine the size of a pizza box that could play a horrible version of Pac-Man. Now, my son has toys with more computing power than the fastest computer built in the year of my birth.

Things change. I think a parent's goal should be to follow technology as closely as possible. It may sound like an excuse, but I buy and test a lot of gadgets and games simply because I want to know what my son and daughter will be using in the next few years. My parents were blindsided by technological advancements and they let me do my own thing. While I don't want to hover over them at the keyboard (besides, I know how to track their every keystroke), I do want to understand the dangers and the risks associated with online behavior. I want to know how to fix stuff if it inevitably breaks. I want to be able to make smart choices when the kids want to buy a holographic in-room projector or a robotic butler or something equally crazy. Their age is the age of immersion and technology changes every day. I hope to educate myself -- and you -- about what's coming up.

So how much technology is too much? I'm honestly not sure. Technology is everywhere now and we, as parents, have to be vigilant yet fair. I want us to explore the limits of technology and how it affects our little ones and, in the process, figure out just where things are headed in the long run.

Give me some of your most pressing technology questions in the comments and let's get cracking on some of these wild and crazy gadgets I have lying on my desk. I'm sure you're as curious as I am to see how this next post-digital generation of kids is going to see the world around them through the lens of the always-on Internet.

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