Italians, in general, seem to be very wary of and have little faith in authority, especially in the shape of government, but also in other forms. I’ve been here too little time and their history is too long for me to really understand where this comes from, but a few conversations about the subject with friends and my 60-something year old Italian teacher leads me to think that their modern political history might have something to do with it. The years of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship and World War II were a time when many were monitored and controlled, threatened and manipulated. A by-product of that era may be this gut-level, defensive reaction to anyone telling you what you should do, or examining your affairs too closely. As a result, the internet with its endless streams of information, social media with its prying eyes, and even e-mail, are viewed with a healthy amount of skepticism, if not outright distrust. An Italian University of Bologna professor was telling me the other day, that she feels like technology, in general, is being used to watch us all the time. She pointed at the US/CIA monitoring of emails with exasperation, and talked about the cameras all over Bologna that read license plate numbers and distribute tickets automatically for the smallest infraction. Are we not allowed to make mistakes without a $100 ticket appearing at our homes? she exclaimed. It’s not human.
She hit upon another reason why Italian adults might not be as into their screens, gadgets and social media as much as their American counterparts, their cultural dependence on actual human interaction. I’ve pointed out on here previously that people actually speak to each other on the street and in cafes – friends and strangers. Few walk down the street looking at their smart phone. The art of conversation along with all the other epicurean arts, are still a very important part of society. At least for now…
I see much more similarity between Italian and American (and French and English and…) children’s views on devices, apps, and the internet than among the older set. Minecraft dominates the ‘tween scene here just like it does in New York’s Hudson Valley. Si parla anche (They also speak) Angry Birds, Clash of the Clans and any game set in the worlds of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Sound familiar? In addition, many of the tweens have Whatsapp or WeChat on their phones for messaging and posting pics and updates. In Zoel’s fifth grade class, everyone has either a phone or an iPad or sometimes both. Some are family iPads instead of the child’s and not everyone has an actual phone plan. Many, like Zoel, have a hand-me-down phone without a plan. They use free Wifi for the internet and messaging, but can only use their apps when no connection can be found. This is pretty close to what we experienced in New York and I’m thinking it’s likely what’s happening with Noah’s classmates too.
For us, that’s already enough. It means that at home Zoel can minecraft with friends (See how I made that a verb? I’m so hip.), use the internet (And wow, has he stumbled upon some doozys… over Christmas, he was into hypnotism, and it’s incredible what you can find when you Google search the subject!), message, use Instagram and FaceTime (which he does on the regular without thinking it’s cool like his parents. It just is.) Those last three have allowed him to keep connected to friends across the ocean on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, which I imagine gives him a measure of stability as he goes about a whole new life in another country. All this can amount to a significant amount of time, and as he gets older and uses these devices for so many different purposes, the old standards for how much “screen time” you get for the day are getting a little hazy and difficult to enforce. We still try to keep to one hour or less of pure game or youtube time (How many Minecraft videos can people make?!) per weekday, 2 hours per day on the weekend. But does Face Timing for 30 minutes really count? Catching up with Garrison kids on Instagram? Messaging Nana?! I’m not sure.
Like my blogmate, I can see how the cyberworld sucks me in sometimes, and how much I have to actively fight looking at my phone or computer to check email, facebook, messages, skype, whatsapp, instagram, twitter, or the weather! In the midst of this struggle, I’d like to help my kid learn to be mindful of the amount of time the internet or screens can steal from his life, and give him the tools needed to adjust accordingly. However, this might just be a case of having to put on the oxygen mask first, before assisting those traveling with you. And I’m working on it!
As for when he gets to move to the next step in this ever-expanding world of devices (things like a working phone, Facebook, unfiltered access to YouTube), the age 13 (end of 7th, beginning of 8th grade) keeps getting thrown out around here. According to Stefan, that’s also when Zoel can watch a whole bunch of movies that Stefan’s dying to share with him. It’s shaping up to be a very eventful year, but given the fact that by that time (two years, which I think is about 20 in electronic- device years), the gods of Silicon Valley will probably have introduced a whole new range of coveted items, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to spread out the new stuff into 9th grade. At least, that’s what I’m betting on!