All Those Gizmos

As much as it bothers me that our kids still play video games while we cruise, I do find comfort in that they are using part of it – their gizmos, the gaming platforms, our precious little bandwidth – to keep their network, their Social Network that is, fresh and active. And it is very interesting to see how they interact with all this.

Call me an “old timer” or such, but to me a gizmo – be it a computer or a chartplotter – is simply a tool to help me perform certain actions. But I can’t help but think that “today’s kids” have a far more organic relationship with technology. From the way they interact with the gizmos to how they procure information and communicate to one another. It looks all so different to me.

Here is Paulo in Roblox trying to decode a system to unlock a cyber-friend. Even his virtual self plays with gizmos on the virtual world !

Also, their virtual reality is far more intertwined to their real one. When I was a kid, I would go outside to play with the other kids in the neighborhood (oh, here comes the “Old Timer’s talk” !). Today’s kids use their gizmos to do so. And while there is an awful lot of alone-time spent playing “stuff”, their gizmos – and the games they enable – are also used as a means of socializing, of playing together. Many a time we had a number of kids onboard playing some game together. Yes, they were INSIDE the cabin, playing with their gizmos, not outside. But still, they were all playing together, laughing their pants off, having a good time as friends, developing social skills (and, to be fair, they ALSO spend time outside, swimming, sailing, playing at the beach). Yes, it is very much different to the way I played back when technology was much less and farther from us. But is it worse?

I have long been a denier of videogaming, often blaming myself for having first brought a gizmo home, and frowning at seeing the kids in front of a screen while the sun is shining outside. And the togetherness inherent to the cruising life has augmented this feeling for me. At the same time, it has given me the opportunity to observe how they interact with technology, and gradually my distaste for the matter has been turning.

As on the example mentioned earlier, many times have we seen our kids playing among other friends using their gizmos and a gaming platform. Yes, it is discomforting for us to see them all looking at screens. But, again, they ARE playing together, having a good time, and building their social skills. It may not be the way I would like it to be, but it is not necessarily bad. On another example, last year Paulo learned a surprising amount of physics, including ballistics and even a touch of relativity, simply because he was interested on a game where he was supposed to build and launch rockets to space. And Adriana and I have been surprised already when, running into farms while on hiking, Raquel or Paulo would recite their knowledge of farming garnered on Minecraft.

Does it mean that I have given in to the gizmo-mania and videogame-frenzy? Have I become a “converted”? I don’t know, and don’t even think it matters.

What I have come to realize, however, is that the usage of gizmos – and videogaming – is not necessarily bad. or Just bad.

Sure, there is a lot of bad stuff out there, games with evil content and such, activities that don’t promote learning or socialization. But there is also good stuff. Content that do promote healthy learning, development and even socialization. I see my role as a parent, nowadays, as one who provides some guidance to Paulo and Raquel on the usage of their gizmos – and their time with it.

In practice, I find it very difficult to control the Amount of usage – the time they spend in front of their screens. Luckily, the cruising life makes it slightly easier, for there is nearly always a fair amount of options available right outside of the cabin. But, still, it’s an ongoing work which requires patience, determination and some friction.

On the other hand, I have found it much less difficult to provide guidance on What they play. Games of extreme violence, like Call of Duty for instance, or pure time-wasters, like Geometry Dash, are heavily criticized and even banned. But games with some didactical content, Kerbal Space Program being one example, and/or those which enable socialization, like Minecraft, are welcome. Last year I even created my own profile in Minecraft and confess to have spent great hours of togetherness with them, learning to play in their own worlds, and understanding first-hand what they do, or why they like it.

Do I do it right? Most certainly not. There are lots of fine lines to thread. One of them, for instance, is the amount of guidance to provide. Get too close, and I will start curbing creativity, and soon enough try to mold their usage to what I believe is right- they will get bored, I will probably get alienated, and the major benefit of letting them drive the discovery will have been curtailed.

So, it’s all like trying to replace a flat tire while underway – my discovering how to deal with all this and promote the most development out of their relationship with gizmos, while at the same time they discover their own ways of dealing with it, and with our perception of it.

I find it exciting to be in such a Journey with them, and hope they become beings more capable than I ever was.

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