I have a computer in the kitchen. It’s a pretty useful tool, because Karen and I are able to check email from there, and as people who work from home it’s nice to be so close without having to wander over to the office all the time. The computer also serves as a virtual recipe book, and a general access point for planning kids activities, managing various schedules, and putting together the endless grocery list.
But it also serves as a gateway to the news, and to social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. These kinds of web visits are hardly mission-critical, but it’s hard to escape the allure of a juicy news story, or the tales of a friend’s weekend activities. Unfortunately we find ourselves checking it while the kids are in the kitchen… either having breakfast or dinner. Instead of paying full attention, we will just check out a quick story, read a funny thread of posts, or follow a link. We find ourselves giving half-answers to the kids, and setting a terrible example in general. Karen occasionally calls me on it, but she does it too if the content is sufficiently compelling or important.
We are the first generation to have that particular device in our life. In some ways it can be argued that it’s not much different than the absent-minded father who reads through the morning paper before leaving for work, his head buried behind a giant broadsheet of print. And there is something to be said for the productivity. An important pending issue can be resolved with a quick response, approvals granted, team-members managed, and the day can launch properly even before you’ve suited up the kids and mounted them in their car seats.
The same thing happens with the BlackBerries and iPhones. It is hard for the person across the table to know whether I’m dealing with an important business issue, a text-message from the nanny about a kid that fell and hurt himself, or whether I’m responding to a Facebook post. We take the kids out to lunch, and I find myself checking the incoming messages. I no longer respond to them unless they are important, in which case I always explain why I need to interrupt the conversation to take care of the pending issue… but I would never tolerate one of those sullen teenagers at my table texting away, so I better make damn sure I’m not a parent who is doing the same thing.
There is something positive about the kitchen computer though: the screensaver spools our life past us, one image every six seconds, and it’s a wonderful way to keep our family memories alive, and to be reminded of all the friends we have across the world. The boys have a high awareness of their extended family, and it constantly triggers questions from the kids about people and places that we know.