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Corso: Virtual reality hits home with daughter’s request

POSTED: August 24, 2008 5:01 a.m.

The other day, my 8-year-old asked me if she could have her own cell phone. Hardly a moral crisis, to be sure, but it did knock me back a step since our typical conversations center around the identification of characters in Disney TV shows that should not be imitated when speaking to adults.

This first in what is sure to be a series of heartbreaking rites of passage visited me as we gathered a peculiar assortment of school supplies for fall. (How many waterless soap dispensers does one classroom really need?) I suggested she was far too young to become enslaved to such a fashion accessory and directed her instead to a lovely assortment of sale-priced animal stickers for her two-pocket folders.

My opposition to adolescent cell phone ownership is not that of an insensitive disciplinarian. Quite the opposite; it is a philosophical one. Between the PC, the Internet, iPod, GameBoy and the like, individuals have become more and more disconnected from one another, even as we plug into the most fantastic technological advances of humankind.

It seems to me that the last 38 years (my lifespan to date) have seen more innovation than the 2,000 years that came before. The more we discover technology that delivers independence and autonomy at the click of a button, the less we seem to rely on one another.

Is this the end of humanity? Not necessarily, but this social disconnect may be one reason parents find it difficult to, well, parent. We don't impart the lessons anymore. Miley Cyrus does.

These were my thoughts when, through anguished facial contortions, my only daughter explained that all her other friends already had cell phones. I really should have been ready for that argument, but could only come up with, "Name one!"

Just as I was about to explain that some kids in the world have neither a cell phone nor running water, her mother, ever the peacemaker, proposed a compromise not unlike the Oslo Accords.

So now we have a Wii. A Wii (pronounced "wee") is the latest electronic gadget marketed as a way to bring families together while actually highlighting the digital divide between parents and kids. Still, knowing my duty to spend the family's stimulus check in the local economy, I gave in to peer pressure and abandoned my life-long aversion to video games.

We set it up in no time at all, finally discovering the purpose of all those colorful plugs on the front of our nearly obsolete tube TV. Even as we powered it on, I was still convinced I was the epicenter of cool in my little girl's eyes.

Months ago, she had discovered that my favorite digital playlist includes Stroke 9's "Little Black Backpack," a '90s alternative rock ditty revived on playgrounds around town through the magic of Kids Bop and other re-branding machines that target children's spending power by appealing to the concentric circles where a parent's and child's tastes coincide.

Gaming technology has come a long way since PacMan. The basic Wii package comes with bowling, golf and a "fitness age" scale. Through a series of virtual athletic tests, the Wii concluded that my Wii fitness age was -- wait for it -- 56. Ouch.

Don't get me wrong. I am equally comfortable at a Crosby, Stills & Nash or John Mayer concert. But for a recently cool dad still hanging on to the last trimester of his youth, it was devastating.

Now I know the truth: No matter how extensive your music library may be, you need only be schooled once in virtual bowling to fall from grace in your daughter's perfect eyes. I'll keep working on it but that human disconnect is looking better all the time.

Arturo Corso is a Gainesville attorney and resident and an occasional Times columnist.



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