The Unexpected Dividends of PC Gaming

I do not enjoy video games. Like, at all. So, when my gamer husband bought a gaming console when our son was just around seven or eight, I was a little eye-rolly. But they really enjoyed playing games together, and if Lego Star Wars was going to be their version of playing catch out in the yard, I really couldn’t find any fault with that.  Himself got older, his sister started playing, too. It was a family affair, and if I didn’t want to join in, that was my loss, really. It was all sunshine and daisies until Himself was about 10, when Xbox live came along.

Don’t get me wrong—online gaming has its perks, not the least of which is the fact that I’m very happy to not have other people’s kids in my house, especially when I’m working. But the advent of online gaming on the Xbox meant that inviting friends over to share or swap games was a thing of the past. Now, you needed not only to own a console, you had to own the same console as your friends. You had to buy a copy of the game, and every friend that you wanted to play with had to buy it too—at $50 to $60 a pop. Oh, and you had to pay for an X-Box Live membership, too. Suddenly, there was intense peer pressure to buy THE new game the moment it came out, and play it online with your friends. When Call of Duty: Black Ops launched to an insane amount of fanfare in November 2010, I officially lost my shit. It was weeks spent arguing with a 10 year old about why I was not buying this game. He didn’t even really want the game. The problem was, apparently every other child in America got this incredibly violent first person shooter on the day it came out. I mean, even if I were willing to let the kid play it, WTF was with all these parents giving their kid a $60 game SIX WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTMAS? He kept getting online to find that all his friends were deeply involved in Black Ops. He felt left out. Sorry dude. Sucks to be you.

But then, they discovered PC games. Starting with Minecraft and gradually moving on to other indie games, all three of my gamers slowly started drifting away from the gaming console and toward the two Macs we had in the house. When the Xbox Live membership expired in 2012, I gave them the ultimatum: You must choose between PC games and the Xbox. They chose the PC.

The only complaint was that, per my son, the Mac wasn’t really the best option for gaming (I have no idea why. He probably told me, but, as noted, I am incredibly disinterested in video games). But my husband, having read countless “how to” posts on Lifehacker and Gizmodo, had been itching to build a PC for a while. He soon followed up on all the posts he’d bookmarked about it, and set to work. With about $700 in parts and software plus some repurposed components—along with a lot of cursing and sweat–he (with “help” from my son) put together a superfast, superslick gaming computer that he’s able to upgrade as needed.

It was worth every single penny. Here’s why.

  1. Better value.  First off, access to Xbox Live was, at the time, about $100 a year, in addition for what we were already paying for Internet service. And while building the machine cost more than what an Xbox would have, it is more powerful, and it’s upgradable, so it will last a long time. Plus, it’s also, you know, a computer.  The kids and the spouse use it to everything one might do on a computer, from reading the news to doing homework, and I got to kick them all off my Mac forever. In addition, individual games are usually cheaper on PC, and there are some really good sales and giveaways on gaming sites like Steam. Which leads us to…
  2. It’s taught my son to handle money. When he turned 13, we set Himself up with his own student PayPal account, so he doesn’t have to use my credit cards or PayPal to buy games. Between his little allowance, which is deposited to his PayPal every payday (a surprise reward for keeping his room neat and making his chores a regular habit), the occasional cast gift, and the ability to easily sell back games had finished for credit on Steam, he manages his spending pretty much on his own.
  3. It made him more generous. Even better: it’s so easy and cheap to buy games  for the PC  that now,  when he sees a game he likes on sale, he’ll buy it for himself and gift it to someone else—his sister, his cousin (who does the same for him), or a friend–so they can play together. For a kid who hates to shop, and is from a family that is not a big gift-giving family, this is a pretty pleasant surprise.
  4. Reading. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, lots of video games provide text-rich experiences. Both of my kids’ decoding skills grew more advanced as they got involved with gaming, and especially text chatting online during games. As this article from Wired explains, games like Minecraft don’t include instructions, but are “surrounded by a culture of literacy” that sends kids digging through websites and wikis for tips and walkthroughs. Many of these resources are text based, written at high levels…. but young readers dive in because they are highly motivated.
  5. Typing. My son’s terrible handwriting slows him down on tests, makes him lazy about writing. But man, can he type. He’s as fast as me now, and almost as accurate. My daughter, who is now finishing up sixth grade, is even faster. I wouldn’t think this was such a big deal, but teachers at my kids’ school are telling me it is—that they are starting to move toward more work being submitted online, but many, many of the kids are being held back by poor typing skills. They don’t learn to type by clicking a game controller, swiping an iPad, or playing games on the phone with their thumbs.
  6. It’s demented and sad, but social.  Most kids game on consoles, which limits the number of real-world friends my PC gamers can interact with online. But this tinier niche has yielded strong bonds for kids who don’t like to socialize in large groups. They’ve both stayed connected with friends who have moved away; they’ve developed friendships with with friends-of-friends who go to different schools, and with friends they’ve made online. Gaming provides a social circle for teenagers who are not particularly interested in “hanging out,” a term that tends to translate into “getting into trouble,” at least in my neck of the woods.
  7. They like being different. My son talks about indie games the way I talked about indie rock in the 1990s: like he’s part of a special tribe of rebels who have eschewed the mainstream for something that is more specialized and innovative.  He’s got a bit of that hipster “I liked it before it was cool” thing going on (his version is, “I played it when it was still in Beta”), and that’s just fine with this GenX parent.
  8. It’s a family thing.  Gaming also offers a shared interest for my two kids, who are three years and one X/Y chromosome apart. They don’t play together all the time, but they play together often enough. When they’re not playing, they talk to each other in gamespeak and chat about gaming celebrities they follow on YouTube (apparently, that’s a thing). Himself also plays almost daily with his cousin, who lives a hour and about $20 in bridge tolls away. My sister and I listen to their constant chatting, and it’s like she and her family live right next door.
  9. Big brother looks out for little sister online. He makes sure she’s not doing anything inappropriate, that she’s not being treated badly—or treating others badly. Some of this could have happened on the Xbox, of course, but the fact that they are on separate machines in the same room means that he’s keeping an eye on her even when she’s not playing the same game as him.
  10. Less clutter. Oh, it always comes down to this with me. No plastic boxes! No game discs (you know, part of me still wants to call them “cartridges”) to put back in those plastic boxes!. No controllers on the coffee table, no wires, no batteries for controllers–nothing to put away, organize, or tidy. It’s bliss.

While I don’t like games myself and I’m always struggling to find the sweet spot for the “right” amount of time to spend glued to the computer, I can’t say I’d ever ban games altogether. I have my little list that forces both kids to do their homework, explore other things, and get out of doors occasionally, and be productive around the house. Are they spending too much time on the computer? Probably. But they’re still good kids and thus far are developing into good young adults. I can’t complain about that.

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My Outrage Detox

I joined Facebook in the midst of the 2008 presidential election. It was super fun, especially for a work-at-home parent of young children who was craving a little water cooler conversation. I could chat with my carefully curated group of 25 or so friends, mocking this or that candidate mercilessly, and catch up with my old college buddies and former colleagues at the same time.

Over the past decade, Facebook has grown and changed, chipping away at the privacy rules (remember when you could hide yourself from “friends of friends”?) and connecting us to everyone and anyone we could possibly be connected too. That has value—it’s like an interactive white pages, really—but it has become increasingly difficult to maintain a wall of separation between different groups of people. Yes, you can (and should) create private groups for specific interests and conversations. But I found that my main feed had started to resemble a bar at four a.m., full of drunks picking fights, and I think I may have been one of the drunks. It was time to shut up and go home.

Barfight

The Internet is a perpetual outrage machine. It’s like all these years of 24 hour cable news monster-shoutery has led us to believe that being engaged means injecting our opinions into every conversation, shaming those who think differently, or proving our superior intellect and belief system at every opportunity. And Facebook has given us this forum in which we can do that quickly, thoughtlessly, and without having to look anyone in the eye. We post, we share, we reprimand, we tally up “likes.” And I felt like I was part of it, boiling my opinions down to pithy (and in my defense, usually quite witty) little comments geared toward schooling everyone else in The Way I Think Things Ought to Be. Anyone who feels that their opinions are being attacked is just going to  hold on to them even tighter, even more irrationally. Even worse, those who feel conflicted on these issues feel irritated, angry, or hurt when other people disrupt their Facebook feeds with things they really don’t want to think about at the moment.

You can spare me your thoughts on Congress.  ©narrowbackslacker

You can spare me your thoughts on Congress.
©narrowbackslacker

At the same time, I was finding that some of the crap people posted was making my blood boil. Articles that made me mad because they were wrong. Articles that made me mad because they were right. Urban myths and unverified claims. Monster shouting.

IMG_2549

So, I stopped.

I started thinking about any post that annoyed me, and decided not to put up posts like that. I tapped out on all political conversations on Facebook.

I call it the Outrage Detox. It’s a multi-step program. Every time I log in to Facebook, I try to remind myself to do following things:

1. Clarify your context. Facebook may have felt like an intimate cafe where you could trade barbs with like-minded friends in 2008, but by 2012 it was more like a crowded auditorium full of people you kind of know. Those are two very different contexts. And as I am constantly reminding my kids, context matters. If I want to rant, or read rants, there are other venues (like Twitter, or private forums, or actual face-to-face conversations) that are more appropriate. Facebook is a room full of people with whom I am sometimes only loosely connected; it  should be a polite and friendly place. I wouldn’t launch into politics or religion at a PTA meeting or on line at the grocery store, so I shouldn’t do that on Facebook either.

2. Mind your manners. There are nanas and children in the room. Be polite. I admit, I still embrace sentence enhancers; my people (and hopefully anyone who reads this blog) has learned to live with my potty mouth. But I do try to think about what I’m actually saying, and wheter it is something that might to hurt someone’s feelings, or put them on the defensive. I don’t care if people hide/unfriend me, but I don’t want to actively accost anyone with nonsense that will do little more than put them in a bad mood.

3. Filter your feed. This is America. People have a right to say whatever they want, with very few limitations. I’m all for it. But we also have a right not to listen to them. So, while I firmly—no, make that fiercely—believe that Charlie Hebdo has a right to publish any cartoon they want, I also would never read or buy a magazine as mean spirited as Charlie Hebdo appears to be. In the same way, I can just hide the opinions of people on Facebook who appear to be mean or stupid or wrong. In fact, it’s my responsibility to do that as a consumer in the marketplace of ideas.

4. Do not engage. We all know how annoying subway preachers are, and how sometimes you are just stuck on a train with no choice other than to hear them. But on Facebook, you can shut people out, if not necessarily down, but just hitting a button. I started hiding “friends” who annoy me and I bite my tongue when someone posts something that offends me (and even when it’s something that I wholeheartedly agree with, to tell the truth).

5. Take your politics (and/or religion) elsewhere.  If I want to rant, I can write a letter to a newspaper or congressperson or post on a moderated or private forum. I can contribute to a cause or work for one. I can tweet my thoughts to those who are actually interested in them.  I can discuss things with people in person. I’ve done all of these things. We can be politically engaged without hitting people with a virtual baseball bat while they’re trying to enjoy their morning coffee. If I want to support a cause on Facebook, a silent show of solidarity (like quietly changing a profile pic) shows where I stand without pressuring others to take any stand at all.

6. You don’t need to unfriend people. Just because I think someone is a wing nut doesn’t mean I won’t pick their kid up from daycare in a pinch or keep them in my thoughts and prayers when they’re dealing with a loss or health crisis. Facebook is a useful tool for keeping in touch with a large community in important and non-intrusive ways. People can get in touch with me without knowing my phone number or private email address, and that’s a good thing.

7. Refine your media diet. Facebook is not the only culprit in the perpetual outrage machine. I’ve had to unfollow monster shouters on twitter, and avoid 24 hour cable news AT ALL COSTS. Seriously, whether you’re a Maddow or an O’Reilly, that shit is no good for your soul. Block it from your TV and only allow yourself news sources that do actual reporting (not just commentary) and at least try to be objective (Don’t worry, you can still catch the best bits via the Internet). And for God’s sake, unless you are truly destitute, be willing to pay at least a little for your Internet news. “News” sources that are financed entirely by clicks are, by design, going to be more monster shouty than those that are paid for by actual customer sales or member contributions.

8. Use Facebook for what it does best. I have considered cutting Facebook loose, but ultimately determined that just can’t quit it. But now I use it for what I feel like it does best: It’s such a simple way to keep in touch with far-flung friends and family in almost real time, and it’s a great channel for following hyperlocal or niche news. Oh, and #ThrowbackThursday is a great way to share memories with old friends while decluttering your house.

9. Never, ever, ever read the comments. Especially when looking at unmoderated feeds—do not give monster shouters, haters, or mean people an audience.

1o. Get back to work (or life). For me, the worst thing about the Interwebs is that it is is just a huge distraction. All that hamster-wheeling over things that, yes, do matter (like government and crime and just mean people) is actually sucking time and energy away from things that  really, really, really matter to me in a much more immediate way. Sure, I need to be an informed citizen/voter, but other things—like spending time with my kids, or earning a living so I can feed/clothe them—are a bit more important in terms of my hierarchy of needs.

For the record,  I do think that in the aggregate, the Internet will prove to be a game changer for democracy, in a good way. I just think that right now, we are in the midst of social media’s awkward adolescence, and we need to teach it how to be an adult. That means verifying information before we repeat (or repost) it. It means taking the time to consider alternative information before we form an opinion. And more often than not, I think it means—or should mean—keeping our opinions to ourselves and respecting not necessarily the opinions of others, but their right to have those opinions. But it also means we have the right to say that we do not want to hear those opinions, and politely shutting down (or ignoring) monster shouting talking heads.

Anyway, I’ve been at this Outrage Detox business for about six months. It’s been gradual, and I’m not saying I haven’t slipped up.  Like anyone in a program, I take it one day at a time and repeat the Serenity Prayer when I find myself wanting to throat punch a troll.

Lessons from Hurricane Sandy #3: Ten reasons why I love e-books

My husband loves to buy books. He really, really, really loves them. He can read circles around me and almost anyone I know. And he was immensely attached to all the books he’d collected (when he moved to NY from CA in 1997, he arrived with one bag of clothes, and about 18 boxes of books). I had nagged forced inspired him to weed his books periodically over the years, and he hadn’t bought many paper books since we’d invested in the e-reader when the Kindle was first launched, but in the summer of 2012 there were still a shit-ton in the house. When he wanted to upgrade his reader to the Paperwhite (we have a checks-and-balances policy on expenditures over $100), I told him I would only approve the expenditure if he agreed to weed out most of the books. My final, winning argument on this issue was “You have moved these books over 3,000 miles, through at least five apartments, over the past two decades. And you have not dusted them once.” So, that fall, he filled about twenty boxes with books, dropped them at a church flea market, and preordered his Paperwhite.

Two weeks later the books-in-the-house issue was rendered moot when Hurricane Sandy brought 8 feet of water into the basement, where most of the books that remained resided. Most of what was left was mine–all textbooks for work–and believe me: it was doubleplusunfun having to slog an Ikea Billy’s worth of sopping, 1,000-page tomes out of the muck. But the truth is, we don’t miss many of the books we lost or gave away. Most of what he’d intended to save—those that he’d considered “favorites”—he could easily get at the library, and many were classics that he could download for free or maybe 99 cents if he wanted to reread (he’s a notorious re-reader). Our Kindles weren’t in the basement, but even if they had been, everything we had bought since the arrival of our first Kindle was safely stored up in the Amazon cloud. And in one of those hilarious post-Sandy moments, his spanking new Paperwhite arrived right on time just a few days after the storm. There we were, knee deep in the muck out, hungry, exhausted, filthy, with no power, no internet or cell service, not even a working traffic light for miles. The state of the neighborhood could only be described as post-apocalyptic. And here is our friendly UPS guy, with the Husband’s new Kindle.

Anyway, one of my favorite websites, Lifehacker, posed a challenge last week, asking readers to sound off on why they love or hate e-books.  I write too slowly and missed the comment bandwagon, so I’m sounding off here instead. There are solid arguments on both sides, but when I weigh out the pros and cons, I’m decidedly in the pro-ebook camp, for a number of reasons. I’ve done my best to narrow them down to ten, below, but first, a few disclaimers:

  • Yes, I know this is a first world discussion. Lots of people can’t afford to buy any books at all. But libraries can and do fill this void, and ebooks will probably have a bigger role in making more content accessible to more people as technology and access improve (at every level of the economic spectrum, smartphone ownership is increasing).
  • Libraries are still the bomb, and anyone who thinks that they are less relevant than they used to be clearly has never been to a branch of the Queens Library on any given day.
  • Ebooks still have plenty of shortcomings.  Off the top of my head: uninspiring book design; crappy business practices (and I’m not complaining that they’re too expensive here); a complete lack of copyediting/proofreading rigor; and no, it’s not all that easy to highlight, bookmark, or make notations. I am eager for the technology to catch up and for the business model and for production standards to adjust on these.
  • Most of my comments here relate to novels and straight-up non-fiction. I still prefer paper books for reference books,  how-to guides, and anything illustrated. I still like leafing through cookbooks (although I don’t hold on to them anymore). And don’t even get me started on how much I love curling up with a real, printed magazine.
  • The problem with ebooks is more about Amazon (specifically, Amazon’s near monopoly on ebooks and their business practices in dealing with publishers), I think, than about ebooks. That said, I’m firmly in the Amazon camp thus far–they just make it so easy to shop, and I found the Kindle tech and Amazon’s customer service to be far superior to B&Ns (our first e-reader was a Nook). I would be happy to jump ship to another provider if they could match the service and selection and convenience of Amazon, or improve on the overall quality of the ebooks, which seem to be riddled with very distracting proofing errors (I really wish that publishers would take ownership of ebook production and sales). But so far, nothing better has emerged.

With that out of the way, here are ten reasons why I love ebooks. Lots of people still love their hard copies, and more power to them. I suspect they are better about dusting than I could ever be.

  1. Books Are Not Bricks. That’s a quote I read a very long time ago from Henry Holt. It came up in an entirely different context, but the line has always resonated with me. Holt, writing for The Atlantic in 1905, expressed a concern that books were being signed, bought, and sold as “soulless things.” I myself have always felt that the soul of a book lies with its meaning, not in the packaging (they don’t say “you can’t judge a book by its cover” for nothing). Books are not something you own; they’re something you experience. Once you’ve read a book, it is yours forever. You don’t have to own it. Some of them are indeed very beautiful: they have been carefully designed and produced in a way that adds value and meaning, and enhances the reading experience. But for most part—especially when it comes to high volume reading, pulp fiction, and the like—the real value is not the form but the content, and what we ourselves gain from having read them (even if they are pulp). Having books on our shelves doesn’t make us better or smarter; it’s just evidence that we have enough money to spend on books. And, as I told my husband ages ago: You’re not in college any more, and miles of shelving full of things you’ve read is no longer impressing your lady friend.
  2. Ebooks are harder to share, except when they’re not. Many people I know complain that the problem is that they can’t share their ebooks–can’t loan them to friends or give them away when they’re done reading them (and conversely, one cannot borrow an ebook easily, or buy used ebooks on the cheap). But on the flip side, it’s pretty easy to set up a circle of readers on a single account. Since my husband and I buy so many books, I’ve picked up an extra Kindle for my mom and put it on our account; when my sister decided to buy one, I had her log it into my account instead of setting up her own. And: instant book club. Whenever one of us buys a book, we all have access to it. We’re going on a cruise together this fall, and we’ll all be reading the same book while we lounge on deck.
  3. Ebooks are harder to lose. Everyone talks about how they like to pass on books to friends. Most of the time they are just giving books away, but sometimes it’s because they loved a book and want their friend to love it, too. The thing is, if it’s a book you love, you might not get it back to read it again or to share with another friend (In my experience, the expected return on a loaned book is about 1 out of 10). Your ebooks aren’t going anywhere. Even if disaster strikes–a flood, a busted reader, a robbery–you can still access your books from a new device.
  4. Ebooks are easier to move. If you’ve ever moved an avid reader into a walk-up apartment (you know who you are, my friends), you know that the best books are virtual books.
  5. The battle of the indie vs. the big box was over long ago.  Some see Amazon as a heartless conquerer, but many communities were bookstore deserts long before Amazon arrived on the scene. Indies were already few and far between back in the early 1990s, when big box stores like Borders and B&N were systematically putting the them out of business. For those of us who live here on the vestigial tail of New York City, there was never a bookstore nearby: the closest on (now long gone) was a few miles and a bridge toll and a parking fee away, and it was a relatively rinky-dink mall bookstore with limited, very mainstream stock.
  6. Free samples. For so long, it was like  you had to marry a book without having dated it first. I fill my Kindle with samples, try them out, and if I find myself wanting more after those first 3o-odd pages, I click “buy.” Far fewer bad purchases sitting on my bedside table mocking me, and a lot more great books I’ve read because I took a chance.
  7. Ebooks don’t need dusting. Enough said.
  8. Ebooks are kind to the farsighted. I am appreciating this more and more every year.
  9. Sometimes you just need to reread Harry Potter. Many people have noted that they just keep the pulp versions of their favorite books. But I’m more the other way around: I keep my favorite books at my fingertips, in my Kindle and/or on my phone at all times.
  10. Shopping at Amazon is ironically more intimate and personal than shopping in the real world. Amazon launched as a bookseller, and it offered what those bookstores could not: Selection and convenience. But oddly, I was immediately won over by the more intimate nature of the Amazon book buying experience. Despite the efforts of big box bookstores, they’re still a store, and there’s often piped-in music, other crap for sale, and just other people around. And while many of us might wax nostalgic about the Dream of the 1990s and all those magical independent bookstores (and record stores), let us not forget the judgy arched eyebrow of the pretentious Gen-X sales clerk as he rang up your copy of the latest Stephen King. Shopping for books at Amazon, I can read reviews at length without sitting on a dusty floor in my work clothes; I can do it in absolute, utter, 1950s librarian–endorsed silence; I can see what others are buying without spying over their shoulder; and I can read YA or pulp fiction on the subway without anyone rolling their eyes at me.

LearnToMod: “A gateway drug for computer coding”

Well, this looks promising:

WIRED SCREEN GRAB

LearnToMod is a program that teaches kids to code, and to use code to create their own Minecraft mods. I love the idea of kids becoming producers of technology, not just consumers, and it’s becoming clear that coding is a key skill that the workerbees of tomorrow can apply to just about any job or any situation. I love this summary, from Teacher Gaming founder Joel Levin:

“Kids are passionate about the game and they quickly understand that they can extend and enhance their Minecraft experience by learning some basic programming…. And that’s really what we want, isn’t it? To have kids realize that with code, they can improve their life in a way that’s relevant to them.”

Check out the full story on WIRED:

FROM WIRED: New Minecraft Mod Teaches You Code as You Play

My daughter is dying to learn to code for Minecraft, and as someone whose skills are pretty much limited to typing, I had no idea where to start. The software, developed by ThoughtSTEM, isn’t available until October, but you can preorder here. I’m planning on holding this particular carrot out in front of her through the first part of school year–she’s a homework procrastinator, so if she can break that habit in September, there will be a nice prize in October.

The media ominivore’s dilemma

When I first posted about the Momentum Optimization Project, I was expecting just a few friends and family members to read it. But it must have struck a chord: As of today, it’s been viewed more than 100,000 times (although part of me suspects it’s my mom, clicking over and over again just to feed my ego). The traffic kind of freaked me out, to be honest–I’m an editor, not a writer, by trade, and I’m not really used to having people whom I don’t know read, comment, even ask me for advice based on something I’ve written. I should probably make it clear that I’m not an expert on anything, more of a curious questioner. And as far as getting my kids to keep things really need and orderly? It’s kind of hilarious that anyone would look to me for advice, because: I am a disaster. Seriously. I need one of these just to find my keys at any given moment.

Anyway, 100,000 views are bound to yield a few criticisms.  A few readers inferred that my insistence on the kids reading “real text (not comics)” meant that I don’t want them reading comics at all, or that I don’t think comics are valuable. Others thought that by limiting screen time and insisting on “creative time,” I was implying that computers are not in fact tools that can be used creatively, or that I think gaming is stupid. All of which is kind of hysterical. Seriously, media–tv, books (including comics and graphic novels), movies, music, online gaming and computers–makes up a huge chunk of our family budget, in terms of time and money. Technology and media are kind of priorities in our lives. We’d rather have new machines than go on vacation (and so, we don’t really go on many vacations).

My goal with the Momentum Optimization Project wasn’t to make the kids not play on the computer, or not watch TV. It was to remind them that there are other ways to spend their time, too.

I know that as a child in the 1970s and early 80s, I watched as much TV as I possibly could. But in reality, there was just not that much TV to watch. Five channels, with maybe three hours of programming per day that might be interesting to a child of any given age, all running at the same time. No DVRs or TV on demand, no streaming media, no 24-hour Nickelodeon or MTV yet. I could watch All The TV There Was To Watch, and eventually, run out of TV to watch. I’d get bored, find something else to do.

Today’s kids have no such limits forced on them. There is so much entertainment, available the touch of a button, that can be delivered right to their faces. And, despite the existence of some really terrible stuff (I’m looking at you, Real Housewives), much of what’s out there is ABSOFREAKINGLUTELY AWESOME. I’m quite certain that if I had Internet when I was a child, I’d have spent my entire adolescence sitting in my room watching SNL clips and searching some kind of irrefutable evidence to prove, once and for all, that REM was better than U2. (Because they were). And if I were a kid in the 2000s, I’d probably have grown pasty looking for LOST spoilers and theories or watching Epic Rap Battles of History until I, like my kids, knew every word to every single rap battle. I get that Everything is Awesome, but I would by happy if my kids would be motivated to, say, follow up on Stephen King vs. Edgar Allen Poe by perhaps reading Carrie or at least looking up Poe’s biography on Wikipedia.

So, really, I’m not looking to put an end to computers (or comics) or to even put strict limits on either of them. I’m just trying to raise well rounded, media omnivores. As I’ve stated before, Newton’s Laws of My Family state that if they get involved in a video game early in the day, that’s pretty much what they’ll want to do all day. If I don’t point them toward other things, and give them a little shove, I know they’ll waste their free time away in a Minecraft or Steam bubble at the expense of all the other awesome stuff–music, sports, books, podcasts, movies–not to mention sunshine and face-t0-face socializing–that they could be enjoying, exploring, and learning from.

Anyway, when I started instituting “creative time” last winter, I generated this little Wordle and hung it in the kitchen. It’s just a hodgepodge of ideas so I always have an answer to “I can’t think of anything to do.”

DO SOMETHING wordle

 

There’s exercise, chores, good deeds, and even some ideas for using technology creatively. When it’s cold or rainy, or when they’re in the height of swimming season and don’t really need to be pressed for more exercise, I’ll let them slide on the “glowing screen” aspect, and suggest they do something active or creative–say, research some topic of interest or make a video or go on a photo treasure hunt–which might involve a computer or tablet. For me, the key is to make them use technology actively and creatively, rather just having them passively absorb content while sitting in a chair.

 

 

 

A quick note on comics

Quite a few people have taken issue–and reasonably so–with my distinction between comics and “real text.” I regret my word choice here: I hadn’t intended to imply that comics are not “real” text. I am a huge fan of comics and graphic novels for kids, and they make up a large portion of my kids’ media diet. However, my goal for the List was to get my kids to prioritize their time–to make them tend to the tasks they MUST accomplish before they settle in for hours on the computer. During the school year, that means getting their assigned reading done: my daughter would have pages in textbooks or an assigned novel, my son is expected to read five news articles per week. Invariably, they would put these tasks off, or not do them at all. And they never seem to think of it as  “homework” since there’s nothing to hand in. My first iteration of The List (which was a hand written scrawl and is not posted on this blog) did not make this distinction, and my daughter responded by reading only graphic novels (and mostly ones that she had read before). I don’t want to discourage that behavior, but she needed to be pushed to engage in longer and more challenging texts. So during the school year at least, comics and graphic novels are considered part of “creative” time, since it doesn’t feel like a chore to have to read them (I make no such distinction in the summertime edition of list). In fact, I treat my daughter to a new comic as a reward whenever she finishes a text-driven book.

I’ll post more on this later, but for now I just wanted to acknowledge those who felt my wording did a disservice to comics and graphic novels, because on review, I totally agree with them.