As we were packing for our vacation at the lake - a float cabin where the only electricity comes from solar panels and there is no flush toilet - Chris asked me if I wanted to bring along the portable DVD player for Gwen.
I'm far from the first parent (or blogger) to ponder the issue of how much technology is appropriate for kids on a family vacation. What's interesting to me is that I can see with perfect clarity the value of the arguments on both sides: they both make sense to me.
See, on the one hand I can get all curmudgeonly and say, When I was a kid on vacation with my family, we damn well didn't have DVD players in our mini-van. I remember driving down the stunningly beautiful California coastline when I was about fifteen years old. It was a long drive, and there was a lot of time to kill - time without GameBoys or DVDs or iPods. What did we do? We talked. There were lots of conversations, and lots of old-school car games like "I Spy" and the alphabet game. One special thing I remember is that all of us brought along a few of our own cassette tapes (yep, cassette tapes - look them up, young'uns) and my dad let us take turns playing them in the main tape player. So we each listened to music that we enjoyed, but in a communal way, which is (I think) the way music is meant to be experienced anyway. It made a big impression on me, because I'm sure my parents would have never chosen to listen to Weird Al or The Red Hot Chili Peppers of their own volition; but we all listened to it together, and then talked a bit about what we liked or didn't like, and then it was someone else's turn to choose a tape. These are memories that never would have happened if we were all plugged into our own iPods or laptops or video games.
See, I can paint quite an idyllic picture of those pre-technology days, can't I? I can stamp my foot and say, "It was good enough for me, it's good enough for my kid."
On the other hand, what a stupid argument that is, because hey - hundreds of years ago, people crossed the plains in covered wagons. Should we carry on that tradition, too? We have all kinds of technology at our disposal, and hell, if it benefits us and we can afford it, we should absolutely make use of it.
And I think that is the key to figuring out the DVD-or-not-to-DVD dilemma. In the case of the cabin, a large part of the attraction is that you really do get away from it all. Cell phones get no signal up there, ergo you are truly off the grid in a way that is becoming increasingly rare. There's no TV, VCR, DVD - no, instead, you have all the beauty of nature to entertain you. The cabin was practically my second home as a kid - it seems we were there nearly every weekend, during the summer, though that memory can't really be accurate - and I don't remember ever being bored. You could swim, fish, dive, suntan, waterski, read, relax, eat, play card or board games, and of course just hang out with the other people there and enjoy their company. That's what the cabin is all about, and bringing a portable DVD player there seemed really wrong.
On the other hand, I can see other family outings where I wouldn't mind bringing it along. In fact, I did bring it along on last Spring's Circle Tour, where it was well-used in any situation where I needed Gwen to sit still for more than 15 seconds. For example, one night we stayed at our friends Sally & Dean's apartment, which was empty as they were not arriving home until late that evening. I needed to unlock the main gate, bring Gwen upstairs to the apartment, unlock the apartment, then go back down to the car and get all our stuff. I couldn't manage all our stuff *and* Gwen at the same time, but leaving Gwen in an empty apartment was a bit worrisome (though slightly less dreadful than leaving her in the empty car). I made sure to bring the playpen and the DVD player along with Gwen on my first trip; set up the playpen, put on Blue's Clues, and put Gwen inside. She was content (and SAFE) for my remaining trips to the car.
Another prime opportunity for judicial technology usage is our lovely BC Ferries system. Whether waiting at the terminal or on the boat itself, getting Gwen to settle down with a movie can be a real treat for both of us (not to mention the other passengers).
In the end, I think I have to keep making these decisions on a case-by-case basis. I wouldn't ever want Gwen's family vacation to be entirely focussed on technology and 'tuning out' the rest of the world. But I do see the value of some technology when used judiciously. In a car full of people on a long road trip, plugging into your iPod for an hour or so can be the closest thing you get to "alone time", and I definitely think everyone needs that once in a while.
What rules do you and your family have around technology while on vacation?