How Much Technology Is Too Much?

Good News 7

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.

blogging, communication, cell phone, gaming


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Jasmine Rivera

I think this is a very interesting topic especially since I am similar shoes.  Working in an office of technology for a college, I find it difficult not to introduce my son into the world he will soon live in.  Now at 3, my son already his own computer, can play videogames on three gaming stations (Wii, Xbox 360 and Game Cube), and also can navigate through his iPod touch like a pro.  Is it too much too soon?  I wonder sometimes if I am inhibiting him or enhancing his future.  Given my son is in a highly educational preschool, loves books and plays outside about 3-4 hours a day I think he is very well-rounded (as a proud parent would say).  However, my friends will children of similiar age find it very odd that I am debating buying him an iPad for his upcoming birthday.....

johnb... johnbiggs

It's something we struggle with. The trick is that technology is "easy" now. Everything is easy to use, easy to play, easy to navigate. When we were growing up computers were hard.

That said, I'm trying to figure out a happy medium. It's tough. Would love to hear what you guys have tried.


nonmember avatar Anon

Kids need to run and play and create their own boundaries (through play) in order to develop mentally and socially. However, some introduction to technology will not hurt. It is a fact of life. When I was a kid, every kid had a play telephone because it encouraged language development. I don't think moms worried day and night about whether this early exposure to technology would make them weird. My shy kids opened up to singing when their auntie bought them a tot karaoke machine when they were 2. Now, I do NOT believe little kids NEED techie toys. Let's be honest, it takes about 3 patient minutes to learn modern tech tools once you actually need to use them. I think some parents believe tech toys make their kids look smarter or something. No, it just means they've gotten an early start on that instead of something else. My kids have a few techie toys but most of what they do is hands-on (they are 4). My personal obsession is teaching them to read so they can then learn whatever they want.

lilma... lilmamiz07


the only tech thing i have is my laptop with $36 internet. no cable, no phones at all(thats including a house phone). I have internet cause my fiance need to do research sometimes for school. I hate technology,specially those cel phones. if... i were asked something about them i would not be able to answer. i think thechnology is making ppl lazy and its making us (humans) loose the contact we once had before all this. i like face to face communication. i think is already to much.

Jeann... JeannieMS

We approach technology / screen time like everything else in life: everything in moderation. My DS (5) loves the iPad. So he gets to use it. Most days he gets at most 30 min -- at most! Sone days when the weather is bad / we're sick / busy he gets more than that -- hours more. We just try to keep an eye on it and aim to keep his screen time to an average of 1-2 hours a day. (tv shows, computer games etc all count as screen time for us). It's working for us -- your mileage may vary!

Jenny Graham

Trully speaking technology has become a indivisible part of our life.We people are becoming more & more addicted to it.We can not stop our next generation to do that.We can just make them to use it in a moderation.Great article from you on a great issue.Thanks!

HP LP3065

nonmember avatar Usability Test

Kids nowadays grow up on technology. Products undergo rigorous usability testing to ensure that even the youngest of them can pick up the gadgets and use them straight away, just look at the iPad! My little boy never fails to amaze me with his new discoveries about my iPad, stuff I never knew myself.

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