by Lisa M. Roberts
- I remember when screensavers were the
latest "cool" software program you could pick up for
your home computer. The concept was novel at the time -- when
your keyboard was at rest, unusual shapes and colors could dance
across your computer screen, all awaiting interruption at the
touch of a fingertip. Back then, the hardest decision to make
was what visual you could tolerate the longest -- eye-draining
mazes, landscape scenery, masterpiece paintings?
- Ah, those were the days...
- Today I find choosing a screensaver
a daunting exercise in parental diplomacy. If I wasn't obsessing
so about it, I'm sure I'd find it all very amusing...but right
now I have to make one of those choices parents dread. In this
case, it's a matter of tapping into the possibility of the universe
(literally, no exagerration) with my eight-year old son, or building
a bridge of communication with my eleven-year old daughter (who
is on the brink of adolescence, no less!).
- Talk about advancements in technology
and communication...check this out:
- The Planetary Society (a space-interest
group) and Paramount Pictures have joined forces to distribute
an innovative screensaver program that "goes to work"
when you are not. Its mission? "To seek out new life and
new civilizations" by processing data captured through radio
signals in outer space. I first heard about all this on Good
Morning America months ago, and from my understanding of this
highly ambitious search effort, everyone who signs up for the
[email protected] screensaver (at www.planetary.org) will be assigned
a "section" of the galaxy to cover. On an average day
each screensaver will be monitoring the standard background noise
in outer space, displayed as a graph on the screen. At the same
time, it will be "listening" for a parting of the usual
soundwaves -- signaling the sensational detection of "ET."
- While every Trekkie that ever
owned a computer has surely hopped on board this interplanetary
quest already, this is also a truly fascinating opportunity to
involve our children in a global experiment with far-reaching
implications. For my eight-year old, who has barely ever heard
of the "U.S.S. Enterprise" but has been an aspiring
scientist since the age of four, the concept of participating
in such a program is phenomenal.
- Meanwhile, back in this everyday,
earthly world, my sixth-grade daughter has been on a quest of
her own. Just a month ago she inherited my 1995 Gateway 2000
P5-120, and all the scraps of technical errors it has accumulated
over the years. One of the features that got lost along the way
was -- you guessed it -- the system's screensaver program. While
I never even noticed it was missing, my daughter became fixated
on the fact that it's inaccessible to her.
- I didn't think much of it until
one recent morning, when I sat down for a work session and noticed
some words scrolling across my monitor. Sure enough, dancing
across a blue background on the computer screen were the words
"I love you, Mommy." Needless to say, I felt hugged
and loved all day long and decided then and there I don't EVER
want a different screensaver for the rest of my life! The next
day the words changed to "Have a good day, Mommy,"
then at night it was "Sweet Dreams, Mommy" and the
following day a whopping "U R the Best Mother Anyone Could
Ever Have! :-)" (That one I wanted to video tape for the
teenage years to come when she will deny ever having even THOUGHT
that no less wrote it!)
- Today the "honeymoon period"
of our mother-daughter message board is over; presently my screensaver
serves more like an electronic chalk board. As I write this essay
and pause to form another thought, I am reading "Dear Mommy,
Today I have math meet after school. Please pick me up at 4:45
unless I call you. With love, Jessica Vincenza :-)".
- Maybe the time has come to sign
up for the exploration of strange new worlds and new civilizations
with my third-grader? But this is where I get stuck. What if,
in between the lines of her hearts-and-flowers memorandums, Jessica
is really saying, "Hey, I'm here too, DON'T FORGET ABOUT
ME!!!" What if, in her nearly twelve years of watching her
EP mom focus on the computer screen on and off -- as other stay-at-home
parents might focus on a TV screen or newspaper or neighbor (!)
in between caregiving activities -- she is revealing an "issue"
with me she has been harboring all these years?
- Hence, my original conflict.
If I cut off this bridge of communication my daughter has built
for us now, will I create a lasting gap between us? If I pass
on pulling my son into this scientific venture, would we miss
a priceless opportunity in the present that could pave a path
for his future? I guess these are the questions parents of the
Information Age must learn to answer. And I suppose it could
be worse. At the pace technology AND our children are flying
ahead these days, we COULD be hurling through space instead of
in our comfy home offices dealing with these issues. I just wish
there was a way to pull the breaks on technology for just a moment,
so us EPs could catch our breath before making any more decisions...
- (Got an opinion? I'm all ears
-- mailto: [email protected])
- Lisa Roberts is the mother of four,
owner of The
Entrepreneurial Parent, LLC and the author of How to Raise A Family &
A Career Under One Roof: A Parent's Guide to Home Business
(Bookhaven Press, 1997). Copies of her book are available for
purchase at EP