Clare Mackintosh: Keep taking the tablets

Today’s youth are born with touch capabilities quite literally at their fingertips

Today’s youth are born with touch capabilities quite literally at their fingertips - Credit: Archant

It’s when your children take to technology like ducks to the water that you realise you are now The Older Generation

The children have phones. Well, iPod Touches, to be specific, but with such an extraordinary array of features and capabilities that they may as well be smart phones. They were supposed to be Christmas presents, but have been delivered early in order to ease the transition from Chipping Norton to Snowdonia, by facilitating regular contact with their old friends.

I held out for as long as I could - despite my own internet-addiction I am not a fan of screen time - but the house move seemed an ideal opportunity to introduce them. It will, after all, only be a couple of years until we enter the world of secondary school, where phones are now practically compulsory, so now is a good time to practice some personal responsibility.

The rules are simple. Break it: pay for it. Lose it: pay for it. So far, so careful. It will come as no surprise that they have taken to this new technology like ducks to water. None of the inept fumbling I remember from my first foray into the iPhone cult; not for them the fat fingered errors or the accidental swipes; the squinting at the screen and the reluctant but inevitable Google search for How To Increase Font Size On Your iPhone.

Today’s youth are born with touch capabilities quite literally at their fingertips. Give a two-year-old an iPad and he will confidently scroll through Peppa Pig images, navigate YouTube, and take covert photos of Daddy on the loo. Within minutes of handing my three children their much coveted iPods, I was treated to a masterclass of functions that my six years as an Apple owner had failed to reveal.

‘So, um, how did you do that?’ I asked eight-year-old George, as she played me a photographic slideshow complete with soundtrack. ‘Easy!’ she proclaimed, her fingers whizzing across the screen, as she replicated the slideshow for me.

And so it dawned on me: I’ve become The Older Generation. Incapable of setting a TV programme to record without assistance from someone born after 1990; ignoring six out of seven of the cycles on the dishwasher because I don’t know what they mean. Before too long I’ll be saying ‘in my day’, and tutting about modern music being nothing but noise. It’s not as though I’m a complete Luddite; I’m a social media devotee, after all, and there’s barely a corner of the internet I haven’t explored in the name of pleasure, procrastination or book research. On trains I whip out my Bluetooth keyboard, pair it with my phone and tap out a quick column. My Fitbit chirpily vibrates when I’ve done that day’s step allocation, and you’d never see me on a plane without my Kindle. I embrace technology. I love it. It’s just that nowadays I don’t always understand it...

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And so the children take on the tech baton and run with it, with no comprehension of how much has changed even in their own short lifetimes; that they hold in their hands a tiny device ten times more powerful than the huge desktop computer I took to university, which whirred and chugged as it processed the simplest of documents, and took two full minutes to dial a connection to the World Wide Web. How quickly we have learned to take it for granted; how fast we discover we could not function without it.

For my children, everything is there at the touch of a button. Phone numbers, opening hours, train times, shopping, films, games, email, video conferencing... Little wonder they clamoured so long for these tiny, shiny iPods. No wonder they cling to them as though they have been grafted to their palms.

‘No screens before school,’ I remind them. ‘No screens until homework’s done. No screens in bed.’ We have moved to the mountains; to this rich, green, beautiful country, with fresh air in abundance and beauty wherever we look. I will not have them ignoring all this in favour of staring at a screen. ‘Put it away, now,’ I said to Evie, somewhat impatiently, as I caught a glimpse of shimmering glass from where she sat in the playroom. ‘But I need it!’ she insisted, leaning forwards protectively. I sighed, and braced myself for an argument. ‘Look!’ she said. I looked. Found a house, built from books, a ruler, a collection of playing cards. Inside, her Sylvanian Family characters, grouped in the kitchen around a make-believe tea. The table? Evie’s iPod, upside down and balanced carefully on four Lego blocks.

‘Can they just finish their supper?’ she asked. ‘Of course they can,’ I said, squeezing in beside her to join in the game. Gadgets are great, but nothing beats a bit of good old-fashioned fun.

I See You, published by Sphere is out now in paperback. For more information or more from Clare Mackintosh, visit her website or follow her on Twitter! @claremackint0sh