Stick to Big Bird not Tweet Bird, Lady

10:22:00 PM

It's chilling to read the story of a mother who twittered before, after and throughout her child's drowning. Toddlers are lightning quick - and so is disaster. To make sense of this tragedy, we've taken the liberty of putting what happened into a little bit of context concerning the limits of a human's capacity for attention span.



Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a world authority on happiness derived from a state of "flow," notes in his TED talk:


... actually, our nervous system is incapable of processing more than about 110 bits of information per second. And in order to hear me and understand what I'm saying, you need to process about 60 bits per second. That's why you can't hear more than two people. You can't understand more than two people talking to you.
While there are no studies that say how many bits of potentially hazardous information a toddler is putting out per second, I would dare say that they seem to be flirting with death or disaster in just about all of them. A toddler requires, from my own personal experience at least 80 to 90 bits for safety to be in play. From my own personal experience a text message requires at least 40 bits for a person like me. I can hear you, but can't respond while texting.


However, no matter how the math works out, generally there will be no personal screen time or cell phone use while a toddler is around. At best, a phone call or a quick reply will put safety in question, and while I'm not one to advocate a dictum or a hard-and-fast rule, I would say, at best, the screen better be playing Dora the Explorer or something like that.


* * *

This week, my 22-month-old got a semi-broken iPhone of her own. She knows how to work the thing better than most adults I know who own one. It's been set up with a Sponge Bob app, some Stevie Wonder in the iPod app, an Animal Sound Machine, and a flashcard app, and she's already fine with identifying the icon that suits her fancy. She gets bored, and a home button gets pressed, and the next episode of Dora is playing. She's a pro.


There is the temptation to check my phone's calendar or to do list or to shoot a quick twitter while she's absorbed in her own device. I thought that's what I would get if she had a smartphone of her own.


No dice.


She's too squirmy to be doing anything but watching with her. At best, I can pick kids programming and iTunes Store apps that are fun for both of us to play if I really have the urge to do a gesture or two.


At the end of the day, the learning curve for these amazing gadgets goes in reverse. Kids will intuitively excel at incorporating them into their daily affairs, but adults, new to these machines and what they can do have a steep climb before they "intuitively" know how it's supposed to fit into their lives.


At the very least, the recent news says pretty clearly: The Pretty Bird on Twitter should be stowed in favor of Big Bird when a toddler is around.

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