Slaves to digital devices

By Raffique Shah
December 14, 2014

Raffique ShahSome nights ago, a television news reporter covering one of the Prime Minister’s toys distribution functions asked eight children what they would like to get as Christmas presents. All seemed to be between ages five and ten. One boy said he wanted a truck and a girl screamed, “A doll house!”

But the others, almost in unison, said they wanted “ah laptop, ah iPhone and ah tablet”—all three devices, or at least two.

Now, I looked at a cross section of the hundreds of children and parents who attended the function. They appeared to be of ordinary means, maybe even poor, understandably so because I’d hate to think the well-off would seek to sponge off Santa Kamla.

As the news focus shifted to more mundane matters—murders, hints of corruption, plunging oil prices—I wondered how the parents of those children would satisfy their craving for technological toys.

I was not surprised that the majority hoped Santa would bring them the now-ubiquitous tech devices. Trinidad and Tobago has one of the highest mobile phones penetration rates in the world, by now around two phones per person, with a high percentage of them having broadband capability.

Laptop computers probably exceed the number of non-curricula printed books that people own and read. Indeed, with every secondary school entrant being the recipient of a taxpayer-funded laptop before he or she gets all her textbooks, the time will come when we shall have more computers than books.

As for the tablets that our parliamentarians are glued to during sittings, except for when they are speaking, this device is fast gaining popularity, and again, in time to come it seems set to wrestle with smart phones for dominance.

In this technological tidal wave that is inundating the country (and the world), I have not mentioned the three or four HD television sets that most homes are equipped with, or the iPods and other entertainment devices that are commonplace.

Before I return to our children’s craving for these instant-communication devices, I hasten to declare that I have long accepted the technological revolution. I have used computers since the 1980s, and the Internet since it came to Trinidad in the 1990s. I resisted the mobile phone until one was imposed on me (in 2001), and I have owned and fully utilised an Amazon Kindle e-reader for some four years.

So I am not against the use of technology. My concerns are how we introduce these devices to children, at what ages they are allowed access to different levels of communications, and what degree of control parents must exercise to ensure they benefit from it rather than abuse it, or worse, they fall victims to the cyberjungle that has messed up the minds and lives of so many young people.

When I hear that primary school pupils, who must be younger than 12, have Facebook accounts and smart phones, I cringe. Do the parents who buy and equip them with these devices understand what they are doing?

Because of the times in which we live, and as a safety measure, I can understand all children having basic mobile phones to stay in contact with their parents, siblings or other adults they need to communicate with.

Mostly, though, children six and older can be seen “texting” or listening to music on their phones, which suggests they have broadband access. Teenagers are glued to their phones or tablets, unaware of what’s happening around them, which is dangerous. Indeed, once children enter secondary schools equipped with broadband-ready laptops, the devices become extensions of their selves, keeping them “connected” even as they sleep!

Do such parents—and they are in the majority—realise what they are doing to their children? With unlimited freedom on phones and the Internet, you are not unleashing creativity, you are stimulating online addiction, maybe even creating monsters.

Steve Jobs, a founder of Apple computers and the brain behind its i-derivatives, was asked by New York Times reporter Nick Bilton in 2010 (he died in 2011), “So your kids must love the iPad?” The company had just launched the hugely successful tablet. Jobs shook his head. “They haven’t used it…we limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

That response spurred Bilton to check with other tech wizards on how they approached their children’s use of technology. The findings were instructive. They all imposed stringent rules, banning the use of gadgets on school nights and allowing limited use on weekends.

Evan Williams, founder of Blogger and Twitter, said his two boys, instead of iPads, have hundreds of books they can read anytime. Mostly, children of the tech-moguls are allowed use of computers during week nights only for homework.

A universal rule among them is: there are no screens in the bedroom.

I imagine they mean televisions, computers and tablets.

As for early schooling, Google’s Alan Eagle says, “I reject the notion that you need technology aids in grammar schools.”

In other words, while technology is an important tool in the modern world, we must not allow our children to become slaves of the digital devices they crave for Christmas.

11 Responses to “Slaves to digital devices”

  • Thanks for that informative blog. Parents please read and consider the wise words of the author. The blog may help you to protect your children from “cyber-criminals” who are bullies, kidnappers or sex offenders.

  • Your article raises several issues including the point that what should be bringing us together in theory, is really dividing us in practice.

    There is a great financial divide between those who have access to technology and those that don’t. Many poor families still do not have internet/broadband service much less a computer. This reporter is perhaps subtle in her message to T&T..You need to create infrastructure whereby everyone has internet access and maybe one day poor children will have an ipad where they can access information about the world.

    I don’t think using technology will create monsters. I think living in a bad and toxic environment creates monsters. We need to teach our children to consume less and create more. Something that the T&T government is not very good at doing. They tend to “show off” and promote their own self interest rather than work to help others. The government should be the servant of the people but they are servants to their iphones and ipad. I wonder how many of them are shopping, texting, or sexting, playing cards, or reading emails during important parlim. hearings.

    Your article should have focused on how much is spent on technology for the wealthy Politicians when compared to what is spent on establishing internet lines in T&T.

    How to use the internet and smart devices are parental issues. But many times children do not have caring or educated parents. The government needs to step in through its Ministry of Education, Ministry of Community Development and its many other agencies and promote smart messages to young children on the dangers of the internet.

    I have no problem with my 14 yr old spending 6 hours on Saturday creating digital animation and art on her Wacom pad (she wants to study digital animation), or my 16 yr. old reading on her Mac laptop. We as parents try to instill and teach the dangers of the internet to our children. This is truncated by the teachers and college admission counselors (they routinely check their applicants’ facebook account).

    The internet is a great means for global human connections and the sharing of real life information. More powerful, it provides access to unlimited information on science that can save lives, world history that make us knowledgeable, and political issues that heighten awareness. Unfortunately, the internet is also used as a dangerous digital weapon than can end lives, shatter dreams and destroy careers.

    The real monsters out there are the ones that pray upon children on the internet, bully others using social media, and rob civic minded adults with online schemes.

    These CEO’s of large companies love to tell us how we should spend our money but behind closed doors they are laughing all the way to the bank. I do agree that learning the basics of reading, writing, and critical thinking skills should be instilled in a child prior to gifting them with a digital device. Smart parents raise smart children and these CEOs are keenly aware of the dangers of the internet. In fact they have developed an App for monitoring children which we can purchase at their website.

    It takes a country to raise good citizens and your article should have focused on how technology is distributed in rural areas and its effect on children.

  • Access to technology is not going to solve world hunger. It just creates more idiots on twitter that never read a book. The future is going to have a ton of skilled angry birds technicians.

  • Technology is killing the next generation,today 60% of university students in North America are girls. The boys especially are addicted to iPhone, cellphone, Internet porn, social media and games. The grand theft auto game alone raked in over a billion dollars in sales. No boys are no longer holding a conversation verbally, instead they are texting and skyping late into the night.

    Just last week I was talking to a parent whose son attended the school opposite his home. The father said this boy was late every day for school despite having to walk less than 3 minutes to his class room. Yes, he was up all night chatting with his friends. In the days when I was growing up after leaving friends I went home, had some food, talk to my parents, did my homework went to bed. The father said his son does not say hello or have a conversation with him but goes to his room not to be seen until the next day.
    Technology is killing the bond between child and parents. And it is only going to get worst as time goes by…


    “The truth is I did not know how to switch off the phone but that is not included there (in the Sunday Express story),” ACP Reyes
    Oh AfroBuddahSunGod, pray tell me this is a misquote, by an overzealous reporter ,attempting to sell some papers, and not that of an intelligent male,Executive Officer , in our noble Police Service ,in 2014 ,trying to defend his public actions,on an inter island flight.
    ‘Poor Commissioner Williams ,’must be hanging his head in shame ,over this behavior.
    It’s now dem PP power brokers ,would give him Wiliams de symbolic middle finger, as far as promotion to his much coveted COP spot.
    What do you know , 7 murders in Tobago, as opposed to 397 in big brother Trinidad. He then decides to send one of his ace crime fighters ,to protect Gonians ,and Euro tourists,from savage ,criminal invaders ,and only to have de man behave like a drunken , UNC dominant /PP government MP, namm3d Glen who once worked in the Ministry Of Gender affairs,before Kamla high en dc Spiritual adviser Sat Maraj demanded his ouster.

    Just imagine what a younger ACP Reyes, would have done , if a civilian had failed to comply with an instruction given to them ,by him,while on de beat, back in de day.

    You know folks , I am on record on dis here Information Highway, giving high praises on a almost a daily basis, to the woman who raised me from age 8 weeks ,to her untimely death at age 53, -‘me think ,’cervical cancer it was -when I was just a mere 16 years.
    I am referring of course to…Si extremely wise, late, Tobago Granny. One of the things she would say to yours truly, as she observed the stupidity ,follies ,ghastly behaviors,or social activities of African folks , is that, “Black people curse!”
    Of course ,I never believed that, and since much later, I dabbled in the Social Sciences, a la Sociology/Political Science , History ,and did not only limit my education to pure sciences,such as chemistry, Physics ,biology-as parroted by a naive ,clueless creature,who professed to be a learned Yankee educated lawyer – I was able to obtain, a wider perspective /more balanced,and or logical understanding , re the problem that has affected ,many members of ‘Afro Kinky Head Nation ,’across de globe.
    Take this incident with Uncle Peter Reyes.
    Well..,need one say more ? Don’t this not give credence to the social ,anti African sentiments ,that is now de rage ,across our country? What do you think fuels the public service purges, by neo triumphalist miscreant ,who think that all Afro Trinis ,are brain dead ,social imbeciles,who unlike them ,are unfit for high powered positions , but instead , should be in the fields cutting cane, to help build Europe, while White ,evil conniving Massa ,still sleep with his women ,and impregnate his, daughters?
    Let’s hope good sense would prevail,and high end public officials ,be they of civic ,business,or political persuasion ,would learn to deport themselves with the proper decorum, expected of them.
    After all,our innocent kids are looking on-many lacking the proper role models at home.
    Let me state for de record that there is nothing more revolting to yours truly ,than folks who in cowardly fashion ,choose to cry wolf.It makes efforts to deal with concrete ……well ..never mind you get the point,hmmmm?
    ‘Nuff said!’
    Long live de Republic of T&T! I luv dis land, Y tu?


  • What a Christmas Treat. Makes you think. Read On.

    My name is Warren Dunham and I’m a Trini when I cook.

    I’m American. I live in San Diego, California. But Trinidad is a part of me that I refuse to let go of. I’m a better—and a happier— person from having lived there.

    From 1973, when I was 13, until 1978, I lived in Maraval, above Boissiere Village. My dad started up the LNG project, which I hope panned out good for Trinidad. It was a big project for him.

    Last time I was in Trinidad was 1988. But what keeps me going is I still cook Trini, all the time.

    My couple o’ years at [the Amoco] school in Mayaro was probably the most fantastic part of my stay in Trinidad. An old man named Boysie taught me how to make crab traps out of bamboo. I caught loads. I’d stand on the Mayaro Main Road selling crabs.

    Indian cab drivers would pull over, laughing. “I don’t even like crab,” one said, “but I never see a white boy sell crab, so I have to buy.”

    I got two nicknames in Trinidad. The first was, “Wotless”. I know Kes the Band came out with a song called, “Wotless” a couple o’ years ago. I said, “Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah! They copying! I been Wotless since 1973.”

    A friend took me to lime in St Ann’s and someone, “You bring that wotless Yankee again?” And people started calling me, “Wotless Warren”. I looked it up in the dictionary, spelling it, “Wattless” and it said, “Without wattage or power”. So I told the guys and they just cried laughing. “You,” they said, “are truly wotless!”

    A lot of friends also called me, “Mango Head”. I asked, “You call me Mango Head because I like to eat mangoes?” They said, “No, because your head shaped funny, like a Julie mango”.

    Once, waiting for a taxi in Maraval, a Land Rover full of police stopped and yelled at me across the road and I thought he said, “Oy, what they call you?” So I proudly said, “Oh, they call me, ‘Mango Head’”. It’s such a sight to see: six policemen falling out of a Land Rover, they laughing so hard.

    When he finally regained his composure, he said, “No, Mango Head, I’m pleased to meet you, but what do they call this whole area we’re in?” And then I started laughing. “You mean,” I said to him, “you all is lost?” He didn’t appreciate my laughter as much as I did his.

    We lived, in Mayaro, [near] Edwin Hing Wan, the famous Trinidadian artist. I’d walk down the beach and watch him paint. He lived in dirt-poor poverty. They had a one-room house with one electric bulb hanging from a cord from the ceiling.

    Hing Wan was crippled and couldn’t use his fingers, but they’d strap a board to his arm with a hole in it, and put a paintbrush through the hole. And he would paint these most fantastic watercolours. Hing Wan is a T&T national treasure but probably half his artwork is scattered across the US, from people who worked in the oil business who bought these beautiful paintings as gifts.

    I miss Trinidad, the place, terribly. But I do find comfort in cooking its food. Trinidad just has a big place in my heart. And my stomach.

    Trinidadian food truly ends up being one of the best cuisines. By sheer accident, you can sit down for Sunday lunch and eat the food of three or four continents!

    I make a mess with the split peas whenever I make dhalpuri. I only make paratha by accident, when I try to pick up my dhalpuri and it all bus’ up.

    A beautiful woman named Ruby George who worked for us showed me how to make sorrel and I always make for Christmas. But, on a Sunday, I love a browned stew chicken. I grow my own herbs and make my own green seasoning.

    A Trini is socially or genetically programmed to always be late. But it’s not a bad thing: because the people you’re going to see expect you to be late. Except for Jouvert. You never hear, “Sorry, I slept in”.

    T&T is like rum punch: a simple basic recipe, ingredients from all over the world, and they come together to make the most beautiful drink. Trinidad has taken all its people and tweaked them. And it becomes one of the best drinks and also one of the best countries.

  • Hi Warren aka Wotless aka Mango Head thanks for that beautiful article. Culturally, you are a Trini even though you were born in America.
    Merry Christmas and enjoy your Trini food.

  • Come on chong sing,and to think I thought you were de smart one.
    Please don’t tell me ,that you fell for this piece of escapist fiction , as spelled out ,by our country hating,cyber – provocateur rascal, Royal Trini,an ardent lifetime UNC,neo tribal , party hack?
    A water down,old money-slave owing family- Euro Trini descendant ,with too much Irish grog in his blood,calling himself a ‘worthless mango head,’and professing publicly, about his love for –of all things-roti,and hunting hairy Caroni river /Beetham mang crabs? You got to be kidding,si?
    Ok,and I too, just ran into an old Tobagonian fellow -trying to entice me, to give him some Xmas change -who likewise swore ,on his mama’s grave,that our Olympian swimming hero,George Bovell ,was born in Auchenskeoch Tobago ,as opposed to Canada as proclaimed ,and he (this old toothless bozo)once worked for the family,when de boy used to run around, in shirt tail ,on the family large Tobago estate.
    Amid laughter ,he claimed , the swimmer knows him quite well,and so he once asked him for a US $100,when they last met,but got a $100 TT,instead.
    “Let Bovell commit a crime ,”he added,with a very serious face ,”and you’ll see ,how quick the T&T media, would acknowledge, that he is really from Tobago,and not Trinidad ,”he added.
    I too fell down on de ground in laughter, like Royal Trini ,fictional ,crab buying/ Indian Taxi drivers ,and stupid , lost policemen-many of whom ,we are certain ,cannot also turn off a cell phone ,just like crime ace, ACP Reyes.
    I am almost certain ,that after reading of my account ,on dis here Trini Center ,Information Highway,some of Bovell, Malabar Arima, ‘gang banging homies/hoodlum buddies ,’who grew up with him,will get mighty jealous,or rather ,mad as hell ,over this slight,by a delusional old Gonian creature,and we know what that would mean ,huh?
    Yep,many sleepless nights for residents ,in the Island wards ,as mainly Kinky head ,sharpshooting brothers ,of our swimming hero Bovell,would be using their Uzis,Tech9, Glocks ,and stolen T&T Smith &Wesson,to good measure,si?
    In addition ,many are planing , as we speak, never to vote for Dr Rowley,aka de Tobago Wajang,in retaliation.
    Ummmmm,score one for Auntie Kamla,de Siparia Queen!
    The woman wins(the PR battle )even without ,the need to erect another billboard late in de night,with states dollars,or better yet, give out a hamper /Laptop -obtain with the help of extremely close ,local party supporting , business benefactors.
    Speaking of Arima ,do they still have Parang ,at the Veladrome,now that the funding for that wonderful art form was also cut?
    Good gracious ,and how about another political ignoramus,and fiction babbler? Just listen to this character Suraj,with his empty /over de top -unwarranted ,high praise,for his Siparia Queen.

    Hey Suraj,’Me think ,’de Castara kid,ANR Robinson ,must be turning over in his grave ,since the only reason ,he did not hold that exalted title-of, “first leader to hold a coalition together for five years,” was due to the destructive work, of Faddah of your Nation,Papa Baz ,aka de divider in Chief ,and his fellow ULF goons ,such as Ramdat,Sudama ,and yes,who else but you ,… diabolical Suraj Rcmbachan,along with one time horse police/goalkeeper, Lennox Phillip, aka Yasin Abu Bakr.
    Ooops,just kidding people!
    Ain’t it de season to be jolly?

    I luv dis land, Y tu?

  • Thank you Neal. I will take your advice. Happy New Year!

  • You are welcome mi Paisano. Take care of yourself,and best wishes to you as well.

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