It’s Not The Machinery

Posted by By at 28 February, at 07 : 38 AM Print

A fellow columnist wrote last week thanking other kids’ parents for buying their eight-year-olds cell phones. He thought a cell phone to be far down on the list of things an eight-year-old should have to keep track of.

“But Dad,” his offspring moaned, “Everybody’s got one.”

My daughter used that line on me once or twice, to which I replied, “I doubt that a lot.”

Sometime after the last time, Daughter was overheard in conversation with a friend who wanted her company going someplace.

“Everyone’s going,” the friend said.

“Not everyone,” replied Daughter #1 and Only.

I’m known to favor the leading edge of technology. A coworker several years back dressed as me for Halloween – bald head, laptop, and a digital camera in a backpack and cell phone on his belt. Few photographers used digital cameras then, and few reporters could file a story using a laptop computer and a pay phone.

My first cell phone was about the same weight and bulk as a house phone, and was carried in an imitation leather bag, and I needed to plug it into a roof-mounted antenna for the signal to get across a supermarket parking lot.

Just to place that in history, I was having the antenna installed the day an attorney said of a glove allegedly found where a pretty young blonde-haired woman had been murdered, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Those who were around then will recall the glove did not fit, and the jury decided the State of California had not proven OJ Simpson killed his wife.

I have been buying cell phones nearly twice as long as Granddaughter #2 has been on the planet, and I’m only on my sixth phone. It occurs to me I have not been putting out sufficient effort to keep up.

She also has a new laptop computer. And she has an older laptop computer. The old one – about two years old – is slow, and has an audio problem that requires its user to be proficient in lip reading to properly enjoy a streamed movie.

Unlike her cell phones, she has yet to misplace the new computer. The old one was only slightly larger than the iPhone; the new is larger than my first television. I think she has not yet misplaced it for the same reason one could not lose the key to a country gas station rest room. Almost universally, those keys were attached to a three-foot log you probably were not going to stick in your pocket and take off down the road, only to discover, later that night and a couple hundred miles away from the station, why sitting felt so uncomfortable.

In another state, Granddaughter #1 has one of the small netbooks. She uses it for homework, and I think she trades email with some of her friends.

Both granddaughters are honors students, and not because of the quality of their computers.

I was well acquainted at one time with a normally clever lad who, without a calculator, not only could not determine the cost of 15 gallons of gasoline, but could not, even with a calculator, recognize that at 65 cents a gallon it probably did not cost 30-some dollars. He had skills, but math wasn’t well represented among them.

A school board member in the county next to where I live asked a question during a meeting. The discussion centered around whether to build a quarter-million dollar weight and exercise room for the high school.

“What will our kids think of us if we don’t do this for them?” the board member asked.

The kids got the weight room.

We often hear how complicated life is for kids who have to deal with “today’s technology” – the standard euphemism for “computer,” but also applicable to shiny multi-station exercise machines. But the truth is, those devices are only tools.

I’ve seen kids labeled “deprived” and “at risk” because their parents did not buy them the latest tools, and I feel really angry when I see it.

The devices with which Bill Gates became the richest man in the world did not exist before he dropped out of college and invented them. It is not the machinery that makes kids smart. It’s smarts that make them able to use machinery for purposes never envisioned by its inventor.

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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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