Cute ‘iPad Baby’ Provokes Thoughts about Reading

In a video making the rounds on YouTube, a toddler is seen trying – and failing – to manipulate the pages of a magazine as if it were an iPad instead of a stack of printed pages. Frustrated in her attempts to make images move, she pushes the magazine away.

Adorable, right?

Well, maybe not. How valuable can it be for a baby to learn that mom’s iPad, with its flashy moving images, is way cooler than the printed page? If children learn to read by being read to by their parents and by mimicking parental behavior – which they do – what is this child learning?

Reading experts say even the youngest of babies benefit when their parents or other adults read to them aloud from a book. By being read to, a baby learns about communication and about important concepts such as numbers and letters, and colors and shapes. Reading also builds critical listening, memory, and vocabulary skills. Indeed, the very act of participating in reading at an early age is what creates lifelong readers. When parent and baby share a book, the baby is usually encouraged to join in the activity by turning pages and following text from left to right. This is behavior that will serve them well when they begin to read on their own.

So yes, it’s cute to see the iPad baby grapple with the pages of a magazine. But it would be really neat if the next frame of the YouTube video showed a parent picking up the magazine the child has pushed away to show her how cool words and pictures can be – even when they only move in our imaginations.


Forest Foursome

Unplug and Reconnect presents the winning essay in our Essay Contest. In his essay, journalist Patrick Ross of Alexandria, Va., describes a family vacation in the Shenandoah wilderness.

Edward Abbey spent a summer alone in Arches National Park, later chronicling his adventure in Desert Solitaire. A tattered copy of that book accompanied me off the grid this August. I wasn’t alone; I was with my wife and two teenage children. And I wasn’t in a desert; we were in the dense forest of Shenandoah National Park. But like Abbey, I learned the value of disconnection from technology, and  the rewards of reconnection with people.

Cooking hot dogs over a fire, listening to the hoots of an unseen barred owl, trying to pick out constellations through the tree canopy of chestnut and red oak. Thank you, U.S. Park Service, for the lack of cell phone towers near our camp site, for not stringing fiber-optic cables to bring us a wi-fi network. It’s easier to unplug from the grid when there’s no temptation of an outlet.

We learned that one night when, weary of our own cooking, we trekked to a park lodge. My daughter quickly discovered a signal on her cell phone. As we stood in a majestic lobby with a picture-window view to the west, she faced east, responding to queries about her absence posted on her Facebook wall. My son responded likewise to a queue of texts. My wife tempted fate by checking her work email, quickly becoming ensnarled in a crisis she was powerless to address.

I resisted. Pulling up a rocking chair, I took in the show as the sun set over the Shenandoah Valley. To my left an older man stared at his Mac laptop screen, to my right a young woman’s face was aglow from her iPad. The sun was unconcerned, continuing to set despite being ignored. I basked in the warmth of superiority, dismissive of these humans Abbey referred to as tool-builders. They were oblivious of my condescension as well.

I had witnessed that dawn in a folding chair, a modest fire in front of me, Desert Solitaire in my left hand. I had bonded with Abbey, sharing his offense at the “petty tyranny” of technology. I lumped my smartphone in with his list of “automatic washers and automobiles and TV machines and telephones…  what intolerable garbage and what utterly useless crap we bury ourselves in day by day.”

Upon returning home I was hesitant to reconnect. I feared drowning in a digital flash flood, a less fatal form of the real danger Abbey faced on a Glen Canyon rafting trip. As it happened, Hurricane Irene made the decision for me, knocking out our power. My phone’s battery was dead from a week’s worth of idleness, and I had no way of knowing how my Eastern Seaboard friends were faring.

Abbey celebrates his independence in Desert Solitaire, yet most of his narrative tells of his interaction with others — Park Service colleagues, a cowboy he guides steer with, his companion on that Glen Canyon rafting adventure. He admits that “Aloneness became loneliness and the sensation was strong enough to remind me (how could I have forgotten?) that the one thing better than solitude, the only thing better than solitude, is society.” It’s worth noting that he concludes the book’s Author’s Introduction with the following sign-off: “E.A., April 1967, Nelson’s Marine Bar, Hoboken.” He’s recalling fondly his time off the grid in a place nearly at the center of it.

Technology, despite what Abbey wrote, is not an oppressor. I can choose when to make use of my “utterly useless crap” and when to disengage, at least when the grid is still pulsing with electrons. And the society he longed for, that each of us longs for, is one we create. The grid permits connection to a larger society, and I welcome that. But that connection still doesn’t compare with a society of loved ones, face-to-face, lit not by the glow of a screen but by the flickers of a fire.

Photo: Shenandoah Sunset by Marisa Ross





And the Winners Are . . .

unplug reconnect forest sceneThe results of our Unplug & Reconnect Labor Day contest are in . . . and the winners are Patrick Ross of Virginia (first place) and Lori Quiller of Alabama (second place).

Patrick escaped to the dense forest of Shenandoah National Park, where he took in the wonders of nature and occasionally found himself bemused by the plugged-in antics of his family members and technology-addicted fellow campers. You can read Patrick’s essay soon.

Meanwhile, our second-place winner, Lori, described the cacophony of street sounds she finally heard, like music to her ears, once she put away her iPod. Lori even managed to avoid a loose manhole cover she might not have noticed while plugged into her iPod! Her essay will also appear here later in the week.

Patrick and Lori each won their choice of a Lo-Tech Survival Kit as their prize. Patrick, a part-time journalist and MFA student, chose our “Family Fun Night” gift choice, which includes dinner for four, four board games, and a dessert-making kit. Lori, who recently became unemployed, plans to treat her parents to a “Family Fun Night” as a way of thanking them for their support.

A third winner, Bracha Hammer Finman of Far Rockaway, NY, an occupational therapy consultant, also won a Lo-Tech Survival Kit in our raffle for all contest entrants, including those who liked Unplug & Reconnect on Facebook or followed us on Twitter. She will receive a  getaway package that includes a $200 Jet Blue gift certificate and a carry-on travel bag.

Making an escape to nature was a popular way to unplug for many of our contestants.

Amber, of Brooklyn, N.Y., described how she and her family fled technology by camping out in an Alaskan barn this summer. Out in the wilderness, she forgot about email as she considered more important things, like close encounters with bears (not to worry; Amber’s mom, a bear-attack veteran – knows just what to do!)

Visiting his “river sanctuary” in Iowa, Mike Wilson was reminded that despite the advances of civilization, he is still a “human animal” touched by the “primal feel of sun, water and wind.”

The contest elicited a poem from Ana Espinal, who observed:

“As I sat in a crowded restaurant with my food and my Nook,/

Who needs to socialize when one has this, that and Facebook?”

Many of our contestants, forced to unplug by power outages wrought by Hurricane Irene found to their surprise that they enjoyed the brief respite from technology. They lit candles at the dinner table, went on nature walks, and played board games with their families for the first time in years.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our contest. We hope you found the experience of unplugging and writing about it as rewarding as we did. Be sure to check back next week to read the winning essays!

Unplugging and Reconnecting: Cure for Cell Phone and Internet Addiction


Unbelievable! The 90-second YouTube clip we recently posted from a Thai commercial has now gone viral, exceeding 2,000,000 views!!! Can you imagine an American cell phone company telling you to put away your phone? Will they ever voluntarily promote the Unplugging and Reconnecting™ concept of using their technology in moderation? Could this be the cure for technology addiction?

International Students Benefitted from “Unplugging”

College students attempting a 24 unplugging challenge rate their experience.

A recent study by the International Center for Media & the Public Affair surveyed students in 10 countries who were asked to unplug from all media for 24 hours.  Read more