walkitout (walkitout) wrote,


Last night at book group, we got to talking about e-readers and tablets. This was partly my fault; I was reading _Mennonites in Early Modern Poland and Prussia_ (<-- family history research. Altho it's a good enough book I might read it anyway. I think.) on a k3 before book group and then towards the end, when M. said next month's book was _Five Skies_ by Mclarty (sic), I went to look it up on the iPad because I was a little confused about the author (it's by Ron Carlson). My friend A. commented about how much computer power there was in such a tiny form and then segued into her feelings about seeing ten year olds walking around with such an expensive device. I noted that the iPad wasn't the only tablet out there and there were more all the time and that the kFire was coming out at a lower price point, and also that the iPad (and hopefully similar devices) was really fantastic for special needs kids since it didn't require as much fine motor control or abstraction as a mouse or trackpad nor as much language as a keyboard. But she was kind of hung up on the idea that it was really expensive at $500+, so I hauled out my old chestnut about the Commodore 64 being $600 when it debuted in the early 1980s -- but she didn't think that many people had them, that many kids used them and also that it was a shared device for the whole family. Given they almost all got monopolized for gaming by the gaming-inclined young male(s) in the families that owned them, I more or less dropped it at that point, because beyond pointing out that families spend whatever they have on their kids -- if they have more, they spend more -- I didn't understand why what A. was saying bothered me so much and I hate getting into a debate when I don't understand my own position. I wind up dismantling the other side rather than presenting a compelling case for my perspective. I think it's a natural human tendency.

In any event, I think what A. was getting at was that if you give a young person an expensive device, when they get older, they will expect that as a part of their life and they might not be able to afford it on their own. You could be setting them up for adult disappointment when they cannot reproduce the lifestyle they have grown to expect. Trivially, this is a stupid way to attack the iPad: by this argument, we shouldn't drive nice cars or live in nice houses, because when kids grow up and move out, they can only afford to share crappy dorm rooms and apartments or rented rooms and zipcar. I don't think A. would think we shouldn't house our families and transport them in a comfortable and enjoyable way, so something else must be going on here.

A.'s comment, in many ways, was how amazing the device is. Yes, it is expensive, but computing devices of the recent past were larger, more annoying and much more expensive. I think what tripped me up about A. was the idea that as computing devices become less expensive and more powerful and easier to use (cheaper and better), children shouldn't be allowed to use them because it sets their expectations too high. I would argue this is comprehensively confused. The devices of the next few months will be much cheaper, and probably not a lot worse -- and it's not a trend I expect to reverse any time soon. I keep _thinking_ it'll slow down, but mostly it just changes, so that instead of more or faster of any one component, it's something else entirely, like e-ink or touch screens or whatever.

After talking to M. about the conundrum (why would people assume a $500 device is for executives to be more productive, when anyone who actually uses it recognizes it's the most fun toy ever and probably most beneficial for the developmentally delayed and/or extremely young?), I've concluded that A. may well be remembering past expensive electronic devices and how they tended to be rapidly destroyed or at least damaged by contact with young people (particularly young people who didn't have to pay for it themselves out of newspaper or lawn mowing money -- I'm speaking about the comparatively distant past now, before today's parents were attempting to conceive the under 18s of today). Handing a beautiful, fun, powerful, $500+ device to a young'un who is just going to break it grates. A. doesn't realize -- because no one really can, until they've seen it in action -- how freakishly durable an iPad is. It survives toddler temper tantrums, sticky fingers and chocolate milk spills. It is a miracle. And a much more affordable miracle than, say, a new car.

Just to be clear: I know most families cannot afford iPads for their children. It _is_ expensive. But I'm not seeing the argument for a family which can afford one or more for their kids to not buy them. If the money is needed for more important things (food, shelter, heat/cooling, medical care, savings for emergencies/retirement/college fund, etc.), each family needs to figure out its own priorities. But having the money to spend on an iPad and not spending it on one because it might set expectations too high seems silly. I've seen what people spend on American Girl dolls and their outfits. (I have in fact contributed to that spending.)
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