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April 04, 2011

The Real Price of an iPad?

The other morning, Adam was looking grumpy on our way to school and I asked him what happened. He was apparently playing with his iPad before breakfast, and Ron walked into the room looking a little frustrated. “Adam, you should be using this time to practice with your lacrosse stick – not playing on the iPad.” Just like those old smoking and drug Ad Council ads, Adam shot back at Ron, “Well, you’re always on your iPhone!” Like father, like son.

And there I was, caught – blackberry in hand (Ron was driving). Like mother, like entire family. Setting it down, I quickly diffused the situation in the car.

“Let’s make a deal.  No one will use any blackberries, iPhones or iPads while we get ready in the morning, eat breakfast and drop off Adam at school. It’s not worth ruining our morning, and we should be spending time together instead of looking at our gadgets.”

We all agreed, although Adam was not happy about not playing on the iPad in the morning. But this whole interaction really got me thinking about technology and its role within relationships. And I’m thinking about it, not just in terms of getting kids outside and active, but what if we’d had the entire conversation through text or email?

Ron: Adam, Practice with your lacrosse stick and stop playing with the iPad

Adam: UR always on UR phone!

Sheila: This is ruining our morning. Let’s all make a deal: no bberries or igadgets at the table.

How do you make an emoticon that expresses the right tone of voice to diffuse a situation like this? A happy face just doesn’t suffice. As a result, our technological relationships are lacking in nuanced emotion. Those small little signals that we give each other through voice and body movements are left out of the conversation. I feel like this new information exchange model is both beneficial and dangerous.

Relationships are becoming more efficient.

For example, is a Skype company. We are constantly communicating through an instant messaging system that quickly sends information from tech to marketing to member care. The result? We are quick and direct. We can communicate simultaneously with multiple people and keep everyone up to speed on many different projects – all at the same time and without leaving our desks. During the day, I am texting with Ron and Ryan, who is away at college. We are constantly navigating our daily lives through an intricate combination of emails and texts. I’m even Facebooking with my parents – the fastest growing generation on the site! At, we encourage families to use technology to keep in touch with their caregivers. Have the nanny send pics of the little ones at the playground while you’re in the office. Ask the babysitter to send a quick text for minor emergencies, like getting locked out of the house.

Relationships are becoming transactional.

While we may be quick, we do lose out on those little signals. A head nod, a confused expression, or just that little extra humanizing something that can diffuse a heated situation or truly celebrate a happy moment. Instead of a face-to-face connection, we are simply exchanging information – I trade mine for yours. Pamela Paul’s New York Times article said it best: “Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You.” Is calling without emailing first really considered just a rude interruption – if you bother to call at all? Personality, self-expression, and even auditory cues are boiled down to a colon and a parenthesis.

Warming Up the Cold Tech World

In both my personal and professional relationships, I celebrate the efficiencies of technological communication, but also mourn the casualties. I do try and revive some of those old feelings triggered by things like old-fashioned eye contact or a reassuring pat on the shoulder. As bare bones as they are, emoticons are essential. When I can, I make it a priority to have face-to-face meetings, both with colleagues and with friends. And I don’t carry my blackberry around with me in the office throughout the day. We’ve started having video chat conferences with our New York office, which has surprisingly helped to eradicate some of the confusion that working in different locations can cause. And, despite technology, I’m still a huge believer in hand-written notes.  That’s why I advise a company called Jack Cards, which helps families send personalized, handwritten cards to loved ones.  

Join the discussion and post a comment: How do you warm up your technological world? Do you meet anyone face-to-face when a simple text or email would get the job done? Do you still make phone calls without e-mailing first? How do you add that human touch?


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John Rienhoff

While I understand the need to place limits on technology usage, especially for developing minds, I have a different view. I bought my son the Wii system when he was three years old; he is almost seven now. I have witnessed his extraordinary hand to eye coordination development, which superseded mine when he was four. He is limited to an hour per day of usage in lieu of television time. The skills being developed now serve him well in our high tech age; this may be especially true in the future of our military defense which is becoming more like video games each year. I purchased him the iPad2 before leaving him in Florida while I am on extended business trips in Bangkok. FaceTime at the touch of a finger across the world is how I stay in touch. He can also open my emails with photos and get a glimpse of his Daddy's day. Additionally, there are good education software applications available. Limits are important, but the value of technology should not be overlooked in a child's daily life.


Quite agree. a good article


I think the iDevices (pad, pod, and phone) are lifesavers. I have three boys under the age of 5, and since my wife works and the (old) sitter was not always available, I often had to drag all of them to doctor's visits. It was such a relief to be able to give the two older boys a gadget for them to play with while I dealt with the baby during those long waits in the office. Likewise, on any car trip over an hour long, the gadgets keep the back of the van free of fighting and screaming.

However, when not in the car or at the doctor's, we do have time restrictions on when and how long the devices can be used, just as we do when the TV can be on or the video games.


I just don't like to use technology at home. We have a Wii - we don't hardly turn it on. We do watch TV, maybe more than we should. We have computers, I have a Blackberry and my husband has a fancy touch phone, we have two Xbox 360's, we have DVD and VCR players - and unless my husband is using them for something specific, they largely stay off. We have even started using the TV more for music to have in the background.

At work, I live off of cutting edge computers, email, phone, text, etc. Outside of work, I want REAL life. I have friends who have thought me less of a friend because I wouldn't interact with them on a digital level - but they wouldn't call, or just come by to visit. If I didn't do all the work to see them, I didn't see them, since they were so used to having all their friends at the touch of a keyboard.

No thank you - I will keep my real life real, and my kids too!


I'm on the fence. As a mechanical Engineer whose worked his career in Technology in the DC area, I enjoy the benefits of being able to communicate to pay online. I submit work orders to my apt complex, a tracking record that is fair to both sides. However with a daughter of 8 and a newphew of 19, I see what happens when you don't teach the basics. I'm now having to force my daughter to read more and less TV time. I agree w/ the father that portable devices in the car work wonders, 2005, I drove down to Tallahassee, Fl we had just bought a Portable DVD player, that worked wonders in between her naps. However, I also have to counsel my nephew on proper etiquette when applying for a job, and how to follow up with a post card, email, or phone call and ask if it is OK first, and which method they prefer. Hand writing of adults today is atrocious, so getting an email or txt for a username/password are life savers vs. getting someone's scribble and having to decipher the characters. All in all, we need both. Embrace technology, but still learn the basics and we should remember, Engineering for the "Abled", makes life better, Engineering for the disabled, makes life possible.. Case in point, Sams Club in Sterling, VA has a dual keyboard for hearing/vision challenged members but who need to communicate with staff. Awesome idea..


We often have this same discussion at home. We don't watch any television in our home, except the movies or educational videos on DVD. My husband will often use the iPad to occupy our 2-year old son while preparing his meals. I will often use educational DVDs for the same reason. While he could sit the entire way through his favourite Toy Story movie on DVD, I find our son's attention span is incredibly short on the iPad, and this concerns me. Perhaps this will change as he gets older, but he won't watch more than 5 minutes of a movie or play an educational app for more than 5 minutes. He just loves to press that "home" button and looks for other apps.
My other concern with the iPad is that it's incredibly difficult to tear him away from it. He throws a tantrum if we suggest turning off the iPad and coming to eat dinner, or going outside to play.
We are surrounded with technology, computers, iPhones and iPads, so we can't avoid it. It just seems difficult to strike a balance when a strong-willed toddler is involved.
And I dread thinking of the teenager holed up in his room playing World of Warcraft.

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