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Vacations, kids and electronics

Kids, get your nose out of those comic books and look at the scenery. (Trip to Black Hills, 1965)

Kids, get your nose out of those video games and look at the scenery. (Trip to Black Hills, 2011)

Grandma, get your nose out of that iPhone and look at the scenery. (Trip to the Wisconsin Dells, 2012)

I suspect the motels where we stayed during our last road trip lost money on us. While the boys ate their weight in motel breakfast waffles, Fruit Loops, and sugar donuts (I know, bad grandpa), the amount of electricity we consumed each night recharging our "devices" must have also cost a pretty penny.

The two adults and two children on this trip among them brought*:

  • 2 iPhones
  • 2 iPod Touches
  • 2 Nintendo DSs
  • 1 iPad
  • 1 laptop 
  • 2 Kindles
  • a digital camera

and with the exception of the digital camera, each device got used on a daily basis. A major task was creating and implementing a charging schedule. With only two ways to charge the devices in the car, full batteries each morning were imperative.

Grandma explains the use of an ancient analog GPS tool.

A few thoughts about mixing vacations and devices:

1. As the quote above suggests, kids (and probably adults), have always been more drawn to media, whether Batman or Mario, than the passing scenery. Since this trip had drives that lasted seven hours and four hours, the babysitting factor of the iPod was great. OK, maybe we should have played Auto Bingo or had deep cross-generational discussions about the meaning of life. You can try that on your next trip with a six-year-old.

2. I made a deliberate effort to stay away from work while on this trip, even getting cranky with my staff for sending me e-mail that I did not deem an emergency. We need to have a departmental meeting about what does and does not constitute an emergency when I get back. I have always prided myself on being one of the few tech directors whose phone is not constantly going off during meetings for questions that result (as I see it) from a lack of empowering others. But this doesn't just happen. 

3. The instant reference ability of the iPhone came in handy. The GPS feature worked great. Checking the opening times of attractions was easy. But this time, more than ever, we were able to "augment" our reality as we traveled. For example, the sign on the city of limits of Lodi, WI, reads "Home of Susie the Duck." Are culturally literate people supposed to know who Susie the Duck is/was? Anyway, the information was easy to find and added a bit to the trip.

What was the name of that bird the guide just pointed out?
Oh, the Prothonotary Warbler, according to the online guide.

4. It's now a ding and not a ring that wakes one up at night. My wife knew within minutes when the new granddaughter arrived. But this time, it was the ding of text message, not the ring of a phone, that carried the news of the early arrival. My grandson Paul and our own younger children do not call or e-mail, only text. If we chronologically-challenged individuals want to stay in touch, it will be our generation that must change communication methods. Do educators get this yet?**

5. Despite the gadgets, we still did analog stuff. Hikes, bike rides, movie going, swimming, and lots of other activity got everyone away from the screens. Oh, we also read books. Really. My guess is that time away from screens will increasingly define what a vacation really is, as more of us spend our work days staring at the damn things. 

Speaking of which, I'm going for a walk!

Oh, despite all the electronics, the motel TV sets did not go on even once...


Books of choice on this trip. 

* This is what happens when you have both a geeky dad and a geeky grandpa.

** From "Embracing the Inevitable" whitepaper, 

Although debates continue about using mobile devices in K-12 education, it seems that their use by Active Learners—students who have grown up with the Internet and expect to have information readily available at their fingertips—has already reached critical mass. As evidence, consider:

  • Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up 2011 National Research Project found that 58% of middle and high school students want to use their own mobile devices as part of their education

  • The same report found that 30% of middle school and 46% of high school students have used Facebook to collaborate on classroom projects

  • The National School Board Association found 63% of students use mobile devices in schools—even when prohibited

  • Believe it or not, 46% of drivers aged 18 to 24 said they would choose Internet access over owning a car, according to the research firm Gartner 

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Reader Comments (5)

A few related observations from the oldest Johnson child (who still makes telephone calls and subscribes to a daily paper!)
--This instant baby news phenomenon is the best. When grandchild #1 arrived 11 years ago, we did have a digital camera, but it was probably two or three days before his dad was coherent enough to go home, download to the computer and email it out. Lots of loved ones waited for a printed photo in the mail.
--All of the backpacks, jackets, etc., that I buy for my elementary age kids have special pockets for MP3 players, and increasingly, iPads. Everyone wants to keep those precious gadgets safe yet accessible.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

I have gone from asking "Where is the pool?" to "Where is the wifi?" - but then the last few times I have been at a hotel was with a swim team.

Start school teacher training on Friday - I wonder what new technology issues await?

August 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Hi Kenn,

Have fun with the new tech issues. It's refreshing to get new problems sometimes!

To a good school year for you and yours,


August 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I think that part of the reponsability rests on parents and the current society. I recently started my son on archery and looked into some hunting mentorship programs here (Mn). Whether one fishes or hunts the more common hunters and fishermen are turning to fish and depth finders and cameras for tracking deer and bears. I think I would give in to technologies if I go hunting. I would like to more about what this woman is doing to teach those children as I am very involved in my childrens education.

September 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErnest

Hi Ernest,

I am not quite sure what your question is, but I agree kids need adult guidance when it comes to using any kind of technologies. (Except I've alway thought of fish finders as cheating!)


September 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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