I can already hear my son’s sighs as I try to coax him away from the latest computer game or be the only boring parent (apparently) to limit his time on the internet. In the same way that I scoffed at my dad for encouraging me away from the television (which he didn’t have when he was a child), I will fondly recall the days when every household didn’t own a computer and when the advent of the internet meant a poor connection and being unable to use the phone at the same time. I am already clearly past it in a generation when a two year old can navigate an IPad. And it’s not that I’m particularly bad at using IT, it just wasn’t there much when I was growing up.
When you live abroad, the internet is a lifeline. I now see my family once a week, more than I ever did when I lived in the UK, thanks to Skype. Whenever I have a concern or question about my son, my first port of call is Google. I can order clothes and household items from M&S and have it delivered to my door, halfway across the world, in less than a week. I can post photos to share with friends and family; do an online course; listen to radio shows from back home on demand; download films free from censorship. I can only begin to imagine how isolating it must have felt before this technology was available, or how different it must have been to move abroad as little as fifteen years ago before the age of the internet really took off.
Of course, the internet does have its downsides, here as much as anywhere else. Quiz nights will never be the same again for one thing! But having this technology does eat a tremendous amount of time and, although I wouldn’t say I use the internet excessively, I do often come away feeling I could have done something more worthwhile with my time. It also creates a sense of obligation, whether to keep posting pictures of my son for everyone at home to see or to reply to an email as soon as it is received, At least with a new baby I now have an excuse not to! I also worry when I see children everywhere glued to IPads, entire families on their own devices ignoring each other in restaurants, or parents paying no attention to their children because they are checking Facebook. I hope my son will appreciate the things I enjoyed as a child, such as inventing his own games, playing out and reading – even if it isn’t from a printed book. But I don’t doubt that there will be some resentment at the fact that I don’t want him glued to a computer screen, much as I remember complaining that I wanted to watch TV soaps like the rest of my friends. So, instead of watching yet another ice bucket challenge, I should lead by example and just enjoy watching my little boy as he sleeps.