Category Archives: children

The Provisional Phone IS A FIRST PHONE

Parents are reluctant to provide tweens with their first phone. They worry about the media content tweens will explore, the memes they will post, and their total time online. But, to withhold the phone for a few more years is to ‘face- down’ an angry tween. We all experience the larger social forces that push us to connect.

We allow kids to get their first phone with almost no training or instruction. Contrast this to the early days of automotives, when driver education was deemed to be a social and legal need. Around 1919, states began enacting laws to establish a minimum age for driving. European countries had stricter and later rules. Although teens mature at different rates teens must still wait until they are fifteen or sixteen to apply for a driver’s license (there are exceptions for farm kids).

Excerpt from Pennsulvania Drivers Manual
source: dot.state.pen.us

Smartphones are just ten years new, so our society has not had time to sort out the protocol and training for phones and tweens. This is an emerging need as the average age for acquiring a first phone is just ten years. There is a certain irony here, for children under eight, notes Common Sense Media, do not necessarily have the critical faculty to discern marketing messages in new media and understand and defend against their persuasive intent.

Beginner’s phones present a related issue: most ten year olds have just developed the skills to be good readers. Does screen time then displace reading time, so that kids don’t grow in their reading breadth and proficiency?

So, with the “tweens”  in mind: do novice phone users need to slow down and gain instruction, similar to beginning drivers?

Boring Phones Rock!

Recently, a group in New Zealand started a kickstarter campaign to develop a stripped down phone that they call aptly, “the boring phone”.  Here, from their web site, are the built-in Features on the Boring phone.

Calling/GPS/Messaging/GPS-Nav/Podcasts/Tethering/Music/Tools

And, here are the features MISSING on the Boring Phone:

Email/Browser/Social Media/AppStore

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1535153164/boringphone-the-minimalist-smartphone

The boring phone comes close to the provisional phone we have touted in previous posts. Socially, it is a phone that kids will be willing to carry; not an out-of-date relic their parents picked out.

Are there other enhancements for “boring”, provisional phones? What are additional lessons we can borrow from the 90 year tradition of educating and licensing new drivers on the road? 

Evening Curfew:


The evening curfew: The beginners driver’s license in California is called a provisional license. Drivers under age18, and for the first 12 months after permitting, cannot drive alone between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Most states have similar laws that restrict driving after dark because it is harder to follow the road markings, and there are more impaired drivers to contend with.

Provisional phones should have similar rules: using smartphones before bedtime and immediately upon waking are not good habits. Sleeping with phones is not healthy, yet a study, again by Common Sense Media, reports that 29% of teens say they sleep with phones a in their bed and 68% report phones are within reach at night.  Provisional phone need to shut themselves down, say at 10 pm, and be left outside the bedroom at night. Every new provisional phone should come with a separate, stand-alone alarm clock and a stand-alone flashlight.

Classroom Time:

Classroom time is a vital component of learning to drive. It should also become an important, and funded, component of the provisional phone. Both schools and libraries have a big role to play- clearing time from other functions to create a new curriculum. The tween’s provisional phone might be activated when a librarian enrolls the new user in a series of on-line and in-person classes.

generic library poster

The curriculum is the equivalent of driver’s education: an age-appropriate intervention to teach online safety, search strategies, and an introduction to the code that powers the apps.

Road Time:

When teens learn to drive, road-time is required, even if the classroom sessions have moved to self-paced online modules. The white-knuckle- road time is never dull and becomes the responsibility of a driving school or parent/guardian.

Sadly, phones do not offer the same opportunity to sit together to learn. But, parents of tweens can participate if they follow the digital trail of their kids through the traffic on their home router. They can also insist on having access to the tween’s social media accounts (which, in theory, are for age 13 and above) and play online games together. 

Train the Parents Too:

 Parents may need to have their own classes: The Common Sense Media poll that found that teens sleep with phones also observed that 74 percent of parents- even more than children- are likely to have mobile devices within reach at night. A provocative Atlantic article ( 2018) argues that “technoference,” – parent’s use of screens is an under-appreciated issue.  The current generation of parents were raised with TV, not smartphones. They are themselves learners and may not understand the technology well enough to be good role-models and teachers.

The Vehicle:

Finally, we come to the vehicle itself. We put kids in safe cars, and require that they buckle up their seat-belts. If the license plate number is obscured, fines are levied. Can we a similar paradigm when we educate tweens on phones?

There should be consequences for kids whose device is found to have posted dangerous or inflammatory content- say sexting messages or cyberbullying. Can the provisional phone be flagged and disabled, taken off the road, so to speak? 

To do so, boring provisional phones should be equipped with provisional phone numbers like a special area code  e.g. (XXX-222-2222) in the prefix. These are trackable. As the tween matures, and demonstrate responsible cyber behavior, they graduate from a temporary number to a standard one.

In Sum-Safe Learning Years:

Tweens, who now get their first phones by age ten or earlier will have five to six years before they become eligible for a driver’s license. Libraries, schools, and parents can use those years to prepare them for a tech future. This training has double-benefit:  when they reach age sixteen the educational program will have prepared teens to the dangers of distraction, and the necessity of keeping eyes on the road, and phones safely stowed.

The ProvisionAL PHONE NEEDS TO SLOW US DOWN

"Why am I in your Hand?"  A screensaver photo showing the time, and this message.
Photo adapted by Jordan McQueen on Unsplash. Displayed by Medium, 11/16/17

The social speed of information is awesome…but it is also dangerous for beginners.

For most of history, messages traveled at about the same speed as a person or animal could walk. The pony express, courier pigeon, and smoke signal incrementally hastened delivery but it is the telegraph that truly disrupted the speed of travel.

Morses’ telegraph machine, invented in 1837, was the first time that messages moved faster than the sender. Communications sent via telegraph, and later via phone, sped from person to person. Today, the internet brings equal or faster speeds with an entirely new dimension. Accelerated messaging travels from a single sender to large groups or collectives; in other words, less person-to-person and more person-to-mass media.

The communications impact is momentous. In this article we consider the virtues of “speed control,”  a continuation of our discussion on phones and provisional learners.

A Cue from Driver’s Education:

First, we take a cue from driver’s education. We need to equip a beginner’s phone with software that encourages new users, usually tweens, to bring focus and attention. Useful software should discourage them from jerky, impulsive communications. It should function like a “parental voice” at the back of a tweens head, helping them to find balance between novelty and risk.

This is done for us when we drive on the road. Legal speed limits keep us in check and make the driving experience predictable. The posted speed sign anticipates the geometry of the road to prevent accidents. There is no analogous criterion for engaging with electronic media like Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Software that slows down tweens has merit. Imagine if there was a ten second delay from the time that a tween posts something to the time that it gets sent out on social media. A pop up might say: “Are you sure that you need to post this? Would you post this if your parents or teachers could read it?  Will you want this post discovered five years from now?”

A ten second delay is not a long time, but would help overcome the impulsiveness of young people.

Cutting back the Multi-task:

A second way to slow down the phone is to design hardware that reduces the ability to multi-task. This is helpful, for while brains are fast, the cognitive ability to stay focused and alert is not. Teens and preteens would be well served if their phones could run only one app at a time. As an example, using GPS for navigation would then disable phone calls and texting. A slower phone is a safer one.

When we drive, there are external messages that prompt us about speed. Standardized road signs and electronic message boards post legal speed limits, but the speed limit changes with bad weather or road work. Electronic media need to have their own message board: perhaps not a weekly summary of our time online, but a countdown of when we started, and the elapsed time.

Niklas Goke, the writer, asks why phones can’t be designed like toothbrushes. While essential, phones should be simple and not trigger us to continually be picked up. He proposes a  number of useful tips that can be applied to provisional phones. One of them is the common-sense screensaver that displays the current time and the message “Why am I in your hand? (see image above). at School & Home:

Slowing it Down at School and Home:

A third way to slow down the phone, of course, is external: parents and educators can set time of day restrictions. Around the world, a number of school systems do this: among them, France, Israel, and Australia (NSW). Parents need to set their own standard, using apps that compile their time online, or require that that teens’ phones be placed face down on the kitchen table at bedtime.

We live in a time when speed, phones, and the ability to act are co-mingled.  Speed will increasingly be the key to manage the Internet of things and future autonomous vehicles but in person- to-person relations it can be a detriment.

We need distance from our phones to reflect on the message content, be kind to others, and make better decisions. So, slowing down the phone…a vital facet of the provisional phone…. is about matching the pace of technology to a young person’s moral and emotional development.  A provisional phone with speed settings is a useful stop.

Hotrod Sinners and Phone Beginners

Parents cringe when kids get their first smartphone. They have valid concerns about the hours kids will spend on the phone, as well as the accidental, or deliberate, exposure to the digital perils of cyber-bullying, cyber-porn, and more.

Yet these smartphones also bring parents a peace of mind that an older generation never experienced.  Although there are still far too many vehicle accidents, young people are getting their driver’s licenses later and waiting longer to get behind the wheel. Fewer parents now spend restless evenings waiting up, praying that their kid and the car return safely from a nocturnal adventure.   Continue reading Hotrod Sinners and Phone Beginners

Provisional Phones/Provisional Drivers

The Provisional Phone And the Provisional Driver…

Are we needing to reinvent the phone for young people?

It used to be a teenage rite of passage in the U.S.:  At ‘Sweet Sixteen’ you were considered mature and could qualify to take a driving exam. Today, that rite comes smaller and younger. Children, well under the age of 16, have been indoctrinated into the whirl of smartphones, the friends and family of telecom.

According to a heavily reported news story in 2016, the average age (in the U.S.)  for having a smartphone today is 10 years.   That numerical average means that many of the users are actually younger!  Another statistic from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Common Sense Media, cites that 75 percent of low-income children have their own mobile device by the age of four.

Still, despite 100 years that separate their invention, smartphones and automobiles are joined at the hip. They bring similar rewards for young people.  With either technology, teens hang out with friends and meet new people, distance themselves from parental controls, and explore the world at large. However, there are also tragic parallels between the phone and driving a car. Teen drivers, ages 16 to 19 are nearly three time more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash and in 2015 there were more than 2,300 deaths. Meanwhile smartphones and social media use appear to correlate with an increase in mental illness, depression, and suicides.  A recent, large panel study with Gallup data compared offline and online social interactions. The researchers observed a statistically significant relationship between a self-reported decline in mental health and a heavier reliance on Facebook’s social interchange.

While no one is proposing that teens need a DMV (a motor vehicle office) to certify them as smartphone users, “provisional phones” could become a new heuristic. Since the beginning of automobiles there have been age restrictions. From the start drivers were required to be tested, and by 1909 one state, Pennsylvania, established an age restriction of age 18. Connecticut became the first state to lower that to age 16.

Today, smartphones seem to know no age restrictions, probably because children do not literally crash and burn. The impact is subtle. Yet recently, Silicon Valley executives, those who design hardware and software, have rallied for stricter technology use and even regulation.

Meanwhile, there is no scientific knowledge, just speculation, of the appropriate age at which children should have phones. There is an undercurrent (no pun intended) of fear about the health impacts of electromagnetic waves on young, developing brains. Meanwhile, ‘lucky thirteen’ seems to be popping-up as the new ‘sweet-sixteen’.  A Colorado doctor had proposed a ballot initiative to ban the sale of smartphones to kids under thirteen.  A large movement now afoot, in 48 states, is called wait until 8th (when children are approximately 14 years old).

The “right age” is clearly a dilemma for parents. Modern parents feel more secure if their children can be in contact, and they justify mobile phones because there are no longer land-lines. They also recognize that a child without a phone misses out socializing with friends and learning modern tools. Everyone knows that the ability and knowledge to handle electronic tools begins before age 13.

Looking for more posts on smartphones and mobility? Check out dearsmarphone.com and @dearsmartphone on Instagram.

The Multigenerational Garage

firegaragedoor

Multigenerational households are growing in number and that’s a noteworthy trend for an aging population. But, the multifamily garage may be the source for the most vital trend. Today, about 20% of seniors live in a multigen household and their travel patterns do not fit the norm. A travel behavior specialist uncovered an unusual pattern.

But, first, what is leading different generations to live under one household?

On the surface, generations living side-by-side are “made-for-TV”,  like the fictional Ewings of Dallas who lived under one roof on the their expansive Southfork ranch. A recent WSJ story reinforces the growing demand from the well-to-do. They  are remodeling their “Next Gen“ homes with dual kitchens and side-by-side amenities.

MULTIGENERATIONAL TRENDS

But the reality that drives most multigenerational housing is less glamorous.  The rate of household formation among those 18 to 24 and 25-34 has been declining for some time- probably, say researchers at  Pew Social Trends, due to lower paying jobs or the lack of jobs. Meanwhile, the marriage rate in the U.S. has declined steadily, and single people are more likely to “stay at home.” A third factor driving the multigenerational household is immigration- modern immigrants are more inclined to live under one roof.

The number of multifamily homes is growing. In 2008, about 16% of the U.S. population lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generation or a grandparent and at least one other generation (Pew). By 2012, the rate was 18%, and Pew notes that it continues to rise, even as the economy recovers.

The multigenerational household may be a good trend for aging Baby Boomers, but for the current cohort of elders, the signals are mixed. Most analysts have been looking upstairs, and writing about the economic and cultural factors that bring these families together.  But the most interesting story may be in the garage.

ARE MULTIGENERATIONAL ELDERS MOBILE?

Do multifamily households tend to share transportation and does it become easier for the oldest member of the household (seniors) to keep their mobility?

According to travel specialist Nancy McGuckin  transportation in the multigenerational household is quite distinct from other household travel patterns.  She analyzed data from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey- approximately 8% of the sampled households qualified.

A key finding is that compared to all people 65 and older, the elderly parent in a multi-generational household is more likely to have a medical condition that makes it difficult to travel and is unlikely to be a driver. Although over one in five (21%) aged 65 and older do not drive, that rate is three times higher for elderly parents living with their adult children.  In the multigenerational household, 64% do not drive.

The reason these older people do not drive seems to be health related. In the multi-generational household,  51.5% report a travel disability, a medical condition that makes it difficult to travel outside the home. That number is nearly double the 26.7% percentage in the general population.

OF HEARTH, HEALTH, AND HOME

McGuckin’s transportation study points us to an interesting,  but hidden, link between health and home. If the elderly parent owns the multi-generational home, i.e. has title to it, there may be further complications. It would disrupt the younger generation to sell, so these elders will be less able to afford assisted living, a nursing home or additional medical care. In more than one way, they lack for alternatives and are literally, more housebound.

Hence, it would be useful to map the geographical locations of these multigenerational household.   A post World War II suburban home, with a sprawling layout and ample square footage, is likely to be beyond the reach of public transit and the Dial-A-Van. But, it might appeal to a large family needing schools and access to highways (for jobs).  An earlier style of multigenerational housing, the triple decker, often found in New England mill towns, might be closer to a bus stop and walking distance to a hospital.

 

Age and Autonomous Cars

 

The autonomous car may be diffusing itself into the hearts and minds of Baby Boomers, even before it makes its first, mass-market debut.

In a poll done by Pew Research in 2014,

N=1001
N=1001

there was no age-divide when respondents were asked about their willingness to ride in an autonomous car. Fifty-two (52) percent of those 18-29 agreed, 50 percent of those ages 30-49, 48 percent of those ages 50 to 64, and 45 percent of those age 65 and older. The associate director of research, Aaron Smith at Pew commented, “We didn’t highlight the age findings because there weren’t any real generational differences to speak of.”

DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION AND AGE GROUPS

This is a very unusual finding. Traditionally “diffusion of innovation” studies find that younger age people are more likely to be early adopters. The literature lists myriad reasons but it is generally held that younger people are more exposed to more messages and information,  find it easier to be at “risk” with new innovations, and  enjoy “bragging rights” from being first (a vital dimension for social media).

Cell phones, GPS navigation, and social media use are recent examples of innovations that  began with young people and then trickled up to older cohorts. Since  24% of the US population is 18 or younger, and another 36% are ages 18 to 44 (total <44= 60%)  a really big innovation needs to filter up to the other 40 percent.

BOTH ENDS OF THE AGE SPECTRUM

The autonomous car might be the innovation that captures both ends of the age spectrum.  For younger users, it holds numerous advantages: It promises mobility for teens and young adults without the hassle and costs of getting a license and owning a car. People under 25 have difficulty renting cars because they do not have a driving record. Oft times they live at home, on campuses, or in urban areas where parking is limited and expensive. The autonomous car could remove these hassles for young people, and let them focus on their schooling, or jobs…and even getting to work or school if they do not own a car.

For older people at the other end of the age spectrum, the autonomous car may be the orange “life preserver” we provide to keep them healthy and actively engaged. In earlier blogs we have written about the need for seniors to keep healthy and connected. When they give up driving older people report feeling isolated and helpless, particularly if they are beyond the reach of public transportation and affordable taxi services. This is a problem of proportion, since nearly 70% of the Baby Boomers in the US have settled in far-flung suburbs served primarily, and sometimes exclusively, by personal household vehicles. The suburbs might have been a fine place to live when they were young and raising families, but they will be the first cohort to test “aging-in-place” when “place” is  car-dependent suburbia.

THE UNIMAGINED…DIFFUSES!

People notoriously underestimate the role of new technology…until it well, just happens. Take, for example, the transition from the corded phone, the one with a curlicue cord plugged in at the wall, to the cordless one. If you had surveyed 35 years ago, and asked people their opinion about a “phone you could take from room to room”…they would have looked puzzled. And next, they would ask why they needed one and they could possibly do with it.

It is unusual, and exciting, that people intuitively understand the need for a futuristic,  autonomous car. The explanation goes something like this: “Imagine a car that you could take from place to place even if you are not feeling too well today, not quite up to driving, or you are simply too old, or too young, to have a full driver’s license.”

 

What about the Kids?

 

LONGISLAND

What about the kids?…and why a map of Long Island?
Most urban planners and transportation analysts know  a lot about Levittown. One of  the reasons that it was so popular was that parents wanted a superior place to raise their children.  J. Llance Mallamo*, a Suffolk County Historian, writes that in the 1950’s and 1960’s there were numerous fantasy and youth related establishments there . “At one time Long Island boasted a seemingly never-ending host of childhood delights including Syosset’s Lollipop Farm, Frank Buck’s Zoo and Monkey Mountain, and Harveys…”.

What changed? Mallamo says demographics but could it really be The Houses of Boom? In the 1980s and 1990s  we built McMansions that turned child raising inside and inward.

*see Long Island Architecture, ed. Joann Krieg, 1991