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For the past week and a half I've been working from a New York apartment where a five-year old child roams free. For those readers without kids, that means I started typing this out as fast as I could right when my morning home-schooling shift ended at 11 a.m., and am hoping to be done before that inevitable moment around lunchtime when my wife walks up to gently remind me that she has a job, too. If I'm not done by then, I may be able to steal a few minutes in the late afternoon when all three of us are on the couch, with the adults trying to work while the kid attends a birthday party on Zoom.
So yeah, being a working parent under quarantine is rough, a fact that untold numbers of people are now learning. And we're the lucky ones. Some parents have jobs that require them to leave the house whether or not their kids are going to school, while others have been laid off. And that’s not counting people who are actually sick.
But it's hard not to feel inadequate when you're steeped in the mythos of modern workaholic culture, where every change is just a new opportunity to life-hack your way to higher productivity. They say Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine during a plague outbreak, after all. I should be using this time to teach the child Mandarin. Instead, I've been giving her word puzzles and pseudo-educational activities and hoping for the best. Thankfully, the idea that harried professionals should feel compelled to add home schooling to their list of tasks is already leading to some well-deserved pushback.
Technology is the obvious answer to this problem. Just seven working days into this new phase of our lives, it's clear my daughter's relationship to screens is evolving—and in more constructive ways than I would have expected. Once a hesitant video chatter, she's now a pro at FaceTime playdates. This week, she and a friend propped up their phones for a video call and drew portraits of each other until my phone battery died. I was able to send a half-dozen emails.
Schools have also turned to video conferencing en masse. My daughter's pre-K program has set up a thrice-weekly Zoom circle time, and she’s joined the millions of kids taking regularly scheduled YouTube art classes from children’s author Mo Willems. All in all, she’s looking at screens more than she ever has, but with more confidence than hesitation. And now she can draw a respectable bus-driving pigeon.
We’re just at the beginning of what could be a long ride, and there are potential perils in letting our resistance to the digital babysitters wane. Jenae Cohn, an academic technology specialist at Stanford University, told me that she’s seeing some instructors try too hard to replicate classroom experiences via technologies like video chat, failing to account for how different looking at a laptop for 90 minutes is from attending class in person. Cohn said it’s particularly unreasonable to expect young children to stay usefully engaged for more than short stints. And she added that the eye strain alone is worth considering.
There are also privacy concerns. Cohn flagged some schools' requirements that kids leave their laptop and microphones on during lessons as potentially problematic. W. Ian O’Byrne, an assistant professor at the College of Charleston who studies technology and early childhood education, said he's been talking to his own kids about the big issues surrounding tech's role in our lives. “We can talk about privacy, we can talk about security,” said O’Byrne, whose children are nine and four. "Algorithms and intellectual ownership, it’s a little harder.”
O'Byrne's main message is that there's a difference between good screen time and bad. If you're giving a child an iPad to scroll through idly while you get some work done, it's probably the bad kind. But when your kid learns the timing of your daily video conference calls and begins planning creative new ways to embarrass you once the web cam light turns green, that's the good stuff.
If you read one thing
The debate du jour is when Americans should return to work. Doctors have recommended people stay indoors for several weeks or even months to contain the spread of the virus. President Trump has suggested he would like to restart the economy and lift restrictions on movement and commerce in a much shorter timeframe. The discussions have pitted doctors against billionaires—except Bill Gates, who is nonplussed by Trump's plan. Meanwhile, Apple told employees that some of its stores would begin to reopen in the first half of April.
And here’s what you need to know in global technology news
Facebook held talks to take a multibillion-dollar 10% stake in Indian wireless company Reliance Jio, before the pandemic stalled negotiations.
YouTube is making the quality of its videos worse by default for a month. It's part of an effort to help deal with the increased internet usage of more than a billion people remaining indoors.
Facebook products like Messenger and WhatsApp have seen usage surge since the start of the pandemic, but ad revenue at the social network has taken a hit, the company said.
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