My boys were playing a game on Sunday that involved a lot of shouting and leaping off beds and onto beanbags – nothing out of the ordinary. Usually I don’t pay attention at all, except to wish they would do it a little more quietly. But then I became aware that their language of play went something like, “Hashtag-jump-higher!” Followed by, “Hashtag-shut-up!” And then, “Hashtag-look-at-me!” Etcetera, etcetera. By the time we went out for the day, the older three were actually calling the four-year-old Hashtag. Talk about Damaging Life Events.
My kids have too many electronic gadgets, are too connected to their ipods/ipads/tv/wii/instagram/internet, and too disconnected from Real Life. I have to remind them daily not to turn on the TV until after dinner, please don’t play Minecraft even if your homework is done, go outside and ride bikes with your brother, it’s a beautiful day! I tell the little one he can watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse after his bath, and at 3.30pm he asks if he can take a bath now.
The kids groan and say, “But Mooom.” Yet with my gentle insistence they slowly venture outside, find the pogo stick and the frisbee, and eventually get up to good, ol’fashioned, outdoor fun (actually, it’s when I yell at the top of my lungs, “DON’T ASK ME AGAIN AND GET OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW” that they hightail it to the basketball hoop).
And now “hashtag” has made its insidious way into even their non-electronic imaginative play. O.M.G. When I hear it, I see Jimmy Fallon and JT’s hilarious Hashtag Sketch – they have an entire conversation using the word “hashtag” accompanied by a hand movement signing a hashtag. It demonstrates how ridiculous we’ve become ascribing all our experiences to a phrase #allinoneword, and also pokes fun at how connected to cyber-world we all need to be. I cried real comedic tears watching my two favorite celebs play that scene, laughing at myself in it all – but now I realize even my baby boy knows what a hashtag is, and also, he taught his preschool teacher how to use her iPhone! Not. That. Funny. Now.
I ban the kids from anything that has a screen for the rest of the day. We go to the beach. They’re still calling J the H-word but at least they are looking into each other’s eyes while they wrestle in the sand and chase seagulls instead of angry birds.
In the afternoon, I receive a text from my friend in Christchurch, New Zealand. She tells me our sons are FaceTiming right now. I heard talking from the boys’ bedroom, but figured it was to each other, not to friends a day away! So much for my screen ban. But I can’t be mad or indignant. My son was crushed when his good friend moved to New Zealand, yet they get to talk to each other every week. And not only talk – interact as if they’re in the same room.
Grandparents live half a world away. Friends come and go. Cousins don’t really know each other. But before my grandmother died, she got to see her youngest grandson on Skype – she never held him in her arms, it’s true, but she saw him move, and open his eyes and she knew what he looked like when he cried and smiled.
My parents and in-laws visit us at least once a year. It’s heartbreaking when they leave. Nothing replaces in-person, physical proximity when it comes to building relationships. On the day of departure, I can’t help but think of our grandparents leaving Lithuania and Latvia in search of better in South Africa, how they left their families behind, really knowing that they would never see them again. And they didn’t.
My kids’ grandparents watch them grow on Skype. We send videos of hip-hop performances and karate gradings. My mother-in-law sends me photos of Jacaranda trees blooming in Johannesburg because she knows how much I adore and miss them. My daughter has been known to text her grandmother in the middle of the night during a sleepover. We feel connected to friends who have moved away, and even to people who live nearby but life is busy and we just don’t get together.
Is it necessary for a preschooler to know how to take photos with an iPhone? Of course not. But how lucky he is to be able to see his Grampa whenever he wants, even though they are continents and time zones and miles apart.
Yes, we are terribly connected to our iDevices – and so are our children. But we are connecting with each other too. I don’t want my son to be known as Hashtag, but #ilove21stcenturycommunication.