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Screensavers Saving Humanity

© 1999, 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 screensaver (at 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: )

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 and through Amazon.

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