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April 01, 2009

Crawling, Walking, Talking and… Tweeting?

Mail As brand new parents, my wife and I were big on the whole milestones thing. Milestones are easy. You make a list of skills, mark on the calendar when they should be achieved, and make sure the battery in your video camera is charged when the time comes. If nothing else, this easy system has gotten us one hell of a highlight reel of our son Fury’s noteworthy accomplishments (most squees per minute ever captured on video? My wife reacting to Fury rolling over by himself for the first time).

While I admit that witnessing Fury’s first steps was indeed a glorious moment in my tenure as a parent, most old school milestones are simply not that exciting, nor very relevant anymore. Understanding the conservation of volume? I’m afraid I didn’t scramble for my camera the day Fury figured out that pouring water from a short fat glass into a tall narrow one didn’t change the amount of water he had. But the day he told me “I didn’t quit, I just minimized the window” – now that stopped me in my tracks.

Today’s kid is an entirely different breed. And with that comes a new set of life skills that must be mastered in order to thrive in this world of ours. Step aside, developmental psychologists. This untrained but marginally observant dad requests the honor of presenting to the scientific community his recommendations for Milestones 2.0.

Following the Mouse-y
It was somewhere between Sesame Street's “Make-a-Monster” and Noggin.com’s Storytime that Fury discovered that this rounded clicky thing served a purpose higher than something to gnaw. And the day he figured out that this device could give him control of what was happening on the screen, was the day I figured out what “MS Paint” was for. Did you know that you can salvage approximately 7 minutes to sort through that stack of bills every time your kid attempts to paint the entire screen red?

Cruising
Shortly after a child realizes that he can control his virtual destiny with a mouse, he will learn to cruise. Much like cruising in the context of pre-walking, the internet cruise is like browsing, but without the independence granted by the ability to type. This means they can click around to navigate, but if they need to switch websites, you have to help them type the URL – unless you’re a smart cookie like this dad, who built them a web page called Fury’s Playroom and filled it with hyperlinked logos from dozens of their favorite sites so they could site-hop freely without your help. Did you know that Fury’s Playroom can salvage enough time to consume two beers, sort bills and cook dinner before a child gets bored and recruits you for Lego duty? I totally should sell subscriptions to Fury’s Playroom

Not Clicking on Strangers
Conventional wisdom in the online marketing industry states that your average banner ad gets about a .02% click through rate. Parental wisdom states that 90% of that .02% comes from toddlers exercising their newfound cruising abilities. Which is why you need to invest in a good anti-spyware program. And vilify ads as if they were Satan himself. Any time something goes wrong for any reason at all, blame ads. Game froze? “Ohhhh… man! I think you clicked on an ad!” Website won’t load? “Oh those ads found you again!” Remote control car ran out of batteries? “Curse yooou, internet ads!!” Goldfish died? "I swear I'll find the ad responsible for Flippy's demise!" Today’s kids (with a little dramatic emphasis on your part) are fairly adept at distinguishing ads and avoiding them. Once this happens, you can even enjoy an occasional nap. So yeah, your kids may not grow up to be internet marketers (ironically, that is what I do for a living), but at least you won’t have to deal with mysterious applications sucking up precious RAM.

Download Tolerance
This is the one where you thank the internet profusely for achieving the impossible: making your kid sit and wait, sans complaint. Not long after your child is able to cruise, he is going to discover the joys of downloading. Be it video clips, ecclectic plug-ins to run NickJr.com games, or the mp3 of the Ben 10 theme song, one thing is clear: he will patiently watch the progress bar, or sheet of paper fluttering into a folder until it says “100%” like a dog balancing a biscuit on its nose. Someone needs to find a way to translate that process into real life. “Son, I really can’t take you to Toys R Us until the shopping plugin finishes downloading into my head. Through this sandwich.”

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Searching
I still remember the day I realized my son would do alright for himself in this world. It was the day he attempted his first online search. He was watching a Bionicle video on YouTube but somehow clicked away and lost it. Minutes later, he came to me asking for my help relocating it. But not before he attempted to help himself. This is the actual screenshot. I was so proud. Spelling, you can learn. But resourcefulness? That’s pure instinct, kid!

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The downside to this milestone is that “Hmm… I don’t know, son” is no longer an acceptable answer. What’s the 6th largest planet? Google it, dad. When is Transformers II coming out? Google it, dad. Can I watch the part in Back to the Future II where Marty McFly’s shoes tie themselves? YouTube it, dad. So much for that nap.

Web 2.0ing
This milestone represents the most significant cognitive leap in this series: the realization that, much like Soylent Green, the internet is people. Dad’s Blackberry isn’t very interesting in and of itself, but he types frantically into it because there are people on the other side of it. People who, for some reason, are interested that “I’m having pancakes with Fury w00t!” Shortly thereafter, your child will develop the innate ability to sense the social media worthiness of any activity, indicated by “dad, you’re gonna Tweet this, aren’t you.” As this awareness reaches its apex, beware of the social media hijack that your child may perpetrate, as illustrated below.

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(Little bugger got more responses to that than I ever get for my tweets!)

But a double edged sword, this social media can be. It also means real people on the other side may let you down. Or at least their virtual self will. It is heartbreaking to see your son log onto Club Penguin on a Friday night so that his penguin can meet up with the penguin persona of a girl from school, only to be stood up. Two weeks in a row. If only he had a blogroll to banish her from -- which segues nicely into the last of the milestones.

Blogging
If watching his dad teaches him anything, the child will eventually come to the following conclusions: a) people will send you free stuff so you can tell everyone how much you like or dislike it b) any mundane fool can build a following on the internet c) you do that through a blog. Fury is just beginning to spread his developmental wings in this stage and hasn’t done much more than experience his eureka! moment (“so… if I blog about toys… that means… toy companies will SEND ME TOYS!”). I mean, I guess I could help him register FurysToys.com or FurysPicks.com, and then recruit some of my designer friends to create a cool header and logo or something like that… But come on, he’s still a kid, and I don’t want to move him along any faster than nature intended.

I’ll just sign him up for the free platform and make him use a template.

Baby steps, folks. Baby steps.

This is an original post to LA Moms Blog. BusyDad also neglects two other blogs: The Busy Dad Blog and Stark Raving Dads.

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