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COLUMN: The kids are all right…

Yes, I am very biased on this subject. I have eight of the best and brightest and most beautiful grandkids ever. They range in age from three to 24. Two of them have grown up with computers and screens and video games and let me tell you, they are just fine, in school, working hard, both with jobs, polite, sweet, what’s not to like.

When Louis was two (he is now 18) he shoved me off the chair, climbed in front of the computer and went off with the Teletubbies, who were clearly more fun than me. From then on, Louis played games, and, when he got a phone, he always had his friends skyped in. With two working parents, he was often home alone for a brief while after school. I once (stupidly) asked him if felt lonely after school. He didn’t understand the question. After all, he was in a game with all his buddies in some adventure land. But of course, I bit the Kool-Aid and used to worry way too much about gaming and screens and phone addiction.

Until the summer when one of my grandsons turned 21. He invited a group of his friends to come to Grandma’s beach and they did; they all put their phones on the picnic table and hooked one up to some speakers so they could play music, with a solar charger to keep it going, and then they went swimming.

When it was time to leave, they darn near vacuumed every cigarette butt, beer can, food waste crumb off the beach and then came up and asked if they could help me with anything.

When the steam train was invented, people were afraid they would die if the train went faster than a galloping horse but they soon got used to the trains.

I got high-speed Internet when I was finishing my doctorate. I have been an information junkie all my life. Living as a writer in the Kootenays meant that getting the books and magazines and reading and information was always a slog, it meant ordering books from the library, driving to Nelson to buy books and magazines with my incredibly limited funds, or picking them up on my rare visits to Vancouver. One of the purest pleasures I have ever had was when someone gave me money to buy books for a library at a small college. I spent three or four hours in what used to be Duthie Books on Robson street, and then I took a bag of these treasures and had tea at the art gallery, still one of my favourite places for tea, and read for a whole afternoon, outside in the sun on the little patio.

So when my laptop and high-speed modem opened the doors to the internet, I was gone, far and gone. Eventually, I realized that the Internet was indeed a million miles wide and an inch deep, and then I mostly used it to find the books I needed.

And then a few years ago, my son insisted I needed a cell phone. “Take it with you when you go on walks,” he said.

“Fine,” I sighed and didn’t.

But, I am always driving grandkids or me from here to there, so the cellphone did come in handy. Finally, I could tell their anxious parents we would be home soon and they want anything from Dairy Queen?

Walking on the rocks beside Kootenay Lake with a phone still seemed silly until I discovered I could take pictures with it, lots and lots of pictures. So now when I go for a walk I take the phone, the ipad and a camera, which also seems silly but is a lot of fun.

I both love and hate Facebook, but it is still so extraordinarily useful. For me, it’s now the grandma’s Facebook where I keep up with my friends and their lives.

I think people have always worried about new technology. I am not immune at all to the dangers of the internet. But I have a window into the new generation of kids growing up with screens, and they are all right. They are very smart, they know how to find stuff out, they are quite amazing in the ways that they navigate technology and find ways to use it. For one thing, they are in touch with me which I deeply appreciate.

It’s easy to complain about the new generation. I think people have been doing that since they invented writing. It’s another thing to hang out with them, listen to them, help them out if I can, talk about things that matter. They read, these millenials. They read on the internet and then they read books. As one grandkid said to me, “The internet is boring.” Which it is. It’s a wonderful resource for me as a writer, and for my kids and their friends who are students, but they love books. Books have a depth and a beauty that calls them; once they discover that, then they are on their way.

My grandkids’ generation is going to have a lot to deal with. There are some mighty big issues coming and I doubt if I am going to be able to stick around and give them sage advice about it all. I am aware of how dangerous the new technology is, and I am also aware that it will give the next generation tools of communication, information sharing, a connection which they are very much going to need.

The kids I know, and there is a lot of them, are pretty wonderful. Some of them are going to write books about growing up on the internet. I am very much looking forward to that. In the meantime, I’m on my way to Dairy Queen, yet again, with another carload of brilliant kids.


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