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Navigating the Upside Down: Does Tech Erase Growing Up?

When I couldn't sleep the other night, my mind went to my newest obsession: what would my childhood have been like if we had today's technology? If you listen to the podcast or read my blog, you'll see that I'm pretty focused on tech and its role in kids' lives lately. I'm wrestling with the more subtle but profound ways media and devices alter our kids' growing-up experiences. What are kids missing out on because they have access at their fingertips and can share any experience with others immediately?

It is no coincidence that my kid and I have been watching Stranger Things together. It's a walk down memory lane from growing up in the 1980s. For my kid, it's almost like watching some ancient anthropology movie of a time before technology. Watching it together brings us closer as we discuss the very different scenarios of growing up then vs. now:

  • The one phone line has been tied up for hours, thus requiring your friend to ride their bike to the house to talk to you.

  • The whole ritual of going to a video store with friends, looking for a movie, trying to agree, and paying late fees.

  • The mall- all of it. The escalators, the food court, the outfits, the pure mall rat experience.

  • The desire to stay at school with friends after the AV Club ended, wandering the halls free with all the time in the world.

  • The sibling who drops you off at the arcade and threatens to leave in an hour if you're not ready to go.

  • The classrooms have no computers. There are just teachers, kids, and the occasional slide show on one of those machines that gets stuck every other slide.

  • The having to figure things out with each other, no googling it, like translating Russian or using book.

  • The sitting in a waiting room at the hospital with nothing to do but look at an old magazine. (This scene happened, and my kid said, "Wait, are they on an Iphone?" We went back to see, and no- the phone we thought we saw was a bag of M&Ms, and they were intently reading the ingredients)

It's not that the 80s were an idyllic time because they weren't. Also notable on the show (and in real life) is all the drinking and smoking, sneaking in and out of windows at night, lying to parents, dealing with dysfunctional families, and severe bullying. I'm pointing out just some places where the absence of technology is notable and allows for connection and communication. The entire experience of growing up for these characters, their interaction with family, school, and friends, and figuring out who they are and want to be would have been different if they had cell phones in their hands.

If you remember being young and not having a device in your hand, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Next time you can't fall asleep, try replaying some of your favorite childhood memories with just one cell phone inserted. Pretty different, right?

For more about my school coaching business, click here. You can also listen to The School Whisperer podcast (here).

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