Friday, January 12, 2007

Modern Toddler Part Two

So the other day, two-year-old Julia asked me about the internet. Then yesterday afternoon she and I were in the joint playroom/study and I sat down at the desk, saying to her, "I just need to send a quick e-mail, honey, then I can play," hoping to take care of some playgroup planning before sitting down to have a tea party. Julia scrambled to her feet and hurried down the hall to her room, saying, "I need to get my computer! I need to go get my INTERNET! I need to write a quick note!"

I was simultaneously amused and dismayed. I mean, her pseudo-adult tone was hilarious. But yet: how many times does Julia hear those words--"I need to write a quick note [check my e-mail, look something up], honey, hang on a minute"--come out of her parents' mouths in the course of a week--heck, a day? How much of a constant background presence is the laptop, the internet, in her little toddler days, because of her mama's writing habit, her daddy's online-Scrabble addiction? It's just way too easy--especially with a laptop and a toddler who is perfectly content to sit alone and read a pile of books to herself more often than not--to get online numerous times a day. Is it bad that my toddler--a two-year-old still in diapers--knows the language of modern-day busy communication? Egad.

It all reminded me so much of Adam Gopnik's wonderful essay--excerpted in The New Yorker awhile back, and forming a chapter in his lovely latest book, "Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York", which I am reading right now--about his preschool daughter's imaginary friend, Charlie Ravioli: an imaginary friend who, being the consummate New Yorker, is too busy to play. Gopnik's daughter Olivia is always saying things about "bumping into" Charlie Ravioli, "grabbing a coffee" with him, "getting his machine" when she tries to call. Gopnik and his wife worry about the meaning of their child creating an imaginary friend whose schedule is too crazy to actually meet up for a playdate. But, of course, their daughter is just parroting the phrases she hears among the adults in her life--her parents, her friends' parents--within the urban landscape every single day: I bumped into so-and-so. We grabbed a quick bite. She had to run. I left him a message. The language of not-actually-connecting.

Isn't that sort of what Julia is absorbing, as well? I have to write a quick note, not sit down and have a long conversation. I have to check something really fast, not slow down the pace of my day and stop multi-tasking for five minutes. I have to finish this thing I'm writing, now, before I lose my thought and can't remember it later on when the babies are in bed. I have to go online, not live in the present, non-electronic, moment.

In the end, these children of the new millenium, they're ALL modern toddlers, aren't they? Not just the New Yorkers, too over-scheduled to play--not just Charlie Ravioli. Even a two-year-old in a college town in southern Minnesota knows about dashing off a quick e-mail.

Good, bad, or simply inevitable?

1 comment:

Christopher Tassava said...

I think, as you'd guess, that it's probably inevitable shading to good, as my recent post suggested. Email, the internet, computers, etc. will be a huge part of her life, so it's only natural that she would be exposed to it so early. It's structurally no different than a farm kid in 1920 seeing and learning how the farm works. And Julia being Julia, I think she'll profit enormously from being web-savvy: imagine all the fun things she'll be able to read and see online!