Children or e-children?

By Thomas Moore

As a junior at the University of Massachusetts, I find that my breakfast conversations have moved from noon closer to 8:00 a.m. over time. They have switched locations from the crowded Hampshire Dining Commons to a desolate apartment. But the most staggering development over the past couple of years has been a cataclysmic shift in the topic of discussion. No longer are we just recapping the previous day’s results in the sporting world, but moving onto topics like getting married and having children. This has been quite the wake up call.

Now listen – I’m still a college student, and single at that, so I don’t expect the stress of marriage and children to add too much heat to my fire any time soon, but it’s never too early to start thinking about it. I don’t have the experience to speak with wisdom about relationships, marriage or having children, but I’ve been equipped with a working brain long enough to come to the conclusion that the notion of starting a family is overwhelming and scary.

This fear isn’t just from the fact that having a child is an incredible responsibility, or that the projected cost of raising a single child is $291,570 for middle-income families, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, but by the extremely heavy reliance on technology as a “third parent” in raising our children.

Now I don’t think that all technology is evil, but I’ve been seeing a scary trend that is starting to appear in the commercial industry. Take for instance the “Thermofocus 5-in-1 Non-Contact Thermometer.” This new product created by Kidz-Med is a “state-of-the-art ‘no touch’ thermometer [that] takes your child’s temperature accurately without touching their skin.” It seems like a harmless product, but the dependence on such a tool may lead to a disconnect between a parent and their child. Pointing a laser at a child’s head may be more accurate when speaking in hundredths of a degree, but what happened to touch? I could always B.S. a thermometer by holding it up to a light, but there was never tricking the back of my mother’s hand.

What seems to be avoided by such an invention is the spending of enough time with your child to notice a difference between their normal temperatures as opposed to a dangerously elevated one. But I think that’s a price that I’ll pay to avoid not being able to detect my child’s temperature one day because the batteries for my thermometer laser gun died.

More than just reading a child’s temperature, another product named “Safety Mate” is available for parents and acts as an “interactive talking first-aid guide for family, baby, child or infant emergency.” The small gadget folds open and resembles a children’s book with buttons that illustrate symptoms ranging from allergic reactions to falls and bone injuries. But what if the batteries run out (maybe just buying better batteries would be the solution to all of this) and the Safety Mate isn’t available to walk you through how to take care of your child? What we’re seeing is an arguably unnecessary reliance on technology in the event of an emergency where prior research as a responsible parent on basic emergencies should be sufficient. It’s like a professor letting you take an exam with your textbook – you can get all the answers right, but you’re not actually learning anything. Some would argue that you’re not even a student at that point. Could the same be said about a parent using a Safety Mate come “test time?”

Maybe it’s one thing to be relying on technology a little bit to help raise a child, but it’s another to let technology take the wheel when it comes to educating a child. That’s right – robot teachers. The Sun Newspaper reported earlier this year that a robot invented by Hiroshi Kobayashi will start teaching students as soon as it passes a trial term at a Tokyo primary school.

I don’t care if the robot has 18 motors that can “create expressions including happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, sadness and even anger,” children should be taught by humans. This may seem a bit hypocritical considering most of my learning comes from browsing Wikipedia and, but a robot that “is multilingual, can do roll calls and set tasks from textbooks” is not a substantial replacement for a human instructor.  With this trend, robot babysitters will hit the market right before robotic surrogate parents.

Now I know that the majority of readers aren’t in a place where they’re seriously preparing to have children, but I think that breakfast conversations and pillow talk may be migrating in that direction in the future for some of us. As responsible adults, I don’t think it’s too soon to bring the topic into the light. I speak to future moms and future dads by asking you to remember that raising a family always has been and should always be a human-to-human relationship, not a human to computer or human love triangle.

Thomas Moore is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]