Remember me? I'm your dad

By Simon Round, September 24, 2012
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A few weeks ago, my daughter Lucy was given a tablet computer for her 10th birthday. Until then, if she wanted to spend all day in front of a screen she had to use my boring old laptop or watch TV. Now, wi-fi permitting, she can get online just about anywhere and anytime.

As I see it, there are only two drawbacks to this. The first is that she does not quite know what to call the device as we couldn't quite stretch to the iPad she really coveted. So she refers to it as the "iPad thing".

A potentially more serious problem is that, since being given it, she has been so engrossed in the tablet she has only rarely acknowledged my existence. When I want her attention, I shout: "Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy". Normally, by about the fifth "Lucy", she will look up at me from the iPad thing, but in an uncomprehending way as if I were a Serbo-Croat-speaking alien she was seeing for the first time.

Eventually, she manages to acknowledge my presence and even sometimes responds to my announcement that "lunch is ready", by saying, "oh, I thought we already had it" before tuning back to her online world. Her brother, Alex, at the tender age of seven is on the same slippery slope despite possessing a smaller, inferior device. He even recently asked my mother whether she had wi-fi in her car.

Which is why this is a great time of year for Jews. On Yom Kippur, everyone is unplugged. It's a day completely without any kind of electronic distractions and you are free to interact with your family in the old-fashioned way - or rather, you would be, if the hunger hadn't made you so short-tempered and crabby you had to lock yourself in your room all afternoon.

So pervasive are fears over how we are now addicted to technology that many in the wider world have taken on the idea of an electronic Sabbath - a family day unencumbered by the temptations of the online world. The kids and I had an offline experiment of this type while on holiday in Norfolk. Our cottage had no broadband, practically no signal and a TV with a screen the size of a postage stamp.

"This," I joyfully announced "is what holidays were like when I was a kid. Except in those days the TV was black-and-white and there was no DVD player."

So the children did what my brother and I did when we were kids - constantly pestered me to be entertained and have money spent on them as the rain teemed down outside. But eventually they came up with some good games - there was the one in which Lucy buried Alex with cushions, and a similar game in which Alex buried Lucy with cushions. And, when the sun came out, we built sand-castles and played crazy golf and after a few days my kids recognised me almost as soon as I asked them a question.

So, is this a happy ending? Well… all the way back, Alex pestered me about getting wi-fi in the car. Once home, they both disappeared behind their screens and haven't noticed me since. But I look forward to making their acquaintance again next summer.

    Last updated: 12:45pm, September 24 2012