These days, every child I know has a tablet, smart phone or laptop; most seem to have all three and most children are internet savvy (i.e. being able to find intensely annoying adults, filming themselves repeatedly opening kinder eggs) by the age of two.
While this isn’t such a bad thing in the age of technology – although some parents will argue whole heartedly that this intensive use of technology is actually bad thing – do you ever remember back to your own childhood and think of the days when everything the world had to offer wasn’t at our finger tips 24 hours a day?
Take your favourite television programs as a child: mine were Top of the Pops and Count Duckula. I looked forward to Thursday evenings all week, as both were on the TV (4pm and 7.30pm, if you are wondering – those times will be forever etched in my memory). I would run home from school as a nine year old child to be settled in front of the TV with a packet of Golden Wonder before Duckula came on. Woe betide my mother if she had made an after school appointment in town which meant I would miss my favourite cartoon. If she did, I would be bereft that it would be another week before I could see my favourite show again and I would have been left out of the playground discussions and playtime reenactments the next day.
I did have a back up though – my own collection of video cassettes that I could tape my favourite TV shows onto, making my own compilation of cartoons, pop videos and films. You had to be very carful with pressing record though – how many of you reading this accidentally recorded Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan on Top of The Pops over the family holiday to Florida or your Auntie Jo’s Wedding?
Fast forward twenty-five years and I now have a toddler who will never know the meaning of missing her favourite TV show, recording her favourite things onto a video cassette (I doubt she will ever even use a DVD) or even only having four television channels to chose from. This is because everything she could ever want is on YouTube, Apple TV or Netflix.
My daughter loves Peppa Pig. If Peppa and co were around 30 years ago, the cartoon would have probably been shown once a week on Saturday morning Television. While it is still shown on some of the children’s TV channels, my daughter has only ever binged watched twenty episodes at a time on YouTube, either on the iPad or beamed up to the TV. Thinking about it, I don’t think my child had ever watched live TV; instead she has the choice of hundreds of children’s programs to watch on the Internet, whenever the fancy takes her.
She will never run home from school to watch her favourite TV show, circle the times of programs she wants to watch in the listings section of the Radio Times, or have that horribly long wait from you favourite new film being in the cinema to the day it was available to rent on video tape from Blockbuster. It will all just be there, 24 hours a day for her to watch whenever she likes – she can even pause and rewind live TV, so she will never have to hold on to use the loo incase she miss something on her favourite show like I did as a child.
The same goes for music. Remember waiting for your favourite band or musician (me: the Bangles, New Kids on the Block and anyone who had ever been on Neighbours) to release their latest album? You’d run down to Our Price, pocket money in hand and buy the 12” LP or cassette. More than likely, you would come home and immediately set about copying the album onto blank cassettes to distribute amongst your school friends – I had a friend who made a fortune doing just that. You would also sit for hours listening to the Top 40 show on Radio 1 every Sunday afternoon getting an RSI from pressing down the record and play button every time a song you liked came on – technically illegal, but every child in the country was at it and I think we all know the feeling of anger when the DJ spoke over the last verse of your favourite song that you had waited three hours to hear.
These days, I don’t own any music as I find it all on the Internet. I have no LP’s, no cassettes, no CD’s and certainly no stereo. All my music is on the Internet and I can listen to any song from any decade at the click of a button. I often feel a little pang of sadness that my daughter will miss out on those long Sunday afternoons in her bedroom waiting for her favourite song to come on the radio so she can tape it to share with her friends at school the next day – these days, teenagers would be sharing a YouTube video on Facebook, all instant with no excitement or the risk of your Mother calling you down for dinner in the middle of the Top Ten.
The Internet is also invaluable when it comes to homework. The hours I could’ve saved doing my GCSE History coursework if only I had had Wikipedia at my fingertips! I remember spending hours and hours in the school library looking up facts about World War Two, making notes and photocopying pages. A world where I could’ve Googled “what started the second world war?” and copied, pasted and printed my revision noted in seconds would have been a dream come true.
There is no escaping technology in the world as it is today. So much has changed unbelievably since I was a child and so much will change again in my daughters’ lifetime. The world of school and work is centred around technology now. I often think back to my Grandfather, also a writer, sitting in his shed-come-office with his huge, metal typewriter. He would bang out each letter on stiff keys and curse any mistakes he made while having to change the tape every few thousand words. I think how different his writing experience was to mine, with my smooth, effortless keys, back lit screen and the wonderful copy, paste and delete functions and wonder if he felt more of a sense of accomplishment looking at the pages of work he produced than I do, attaching my files to an email and sending them to clients?
While technology is a good thing moving us forward and allowing us to move through life easier, we have lost out on so many childhood rites of passage and traditions because of it which when I look back, is a sad thing.