A handheld device that is an ally instead of an adversary. A device that assists my parenting instead of disrupting it. A device that I am not fearful and hesitant to give to my twelve-year-old son for his birthday, but one that I am excited about because I know it will protect and watch over him online as I would. A device that uses AI to monitor what he is doing, that is intelligent enough to block certain parts of the web from him in real time, always one step ahead, gently leading him towards the bright places on the internet instead of the dark ones.
A device that actively and at all times recognizes the dangers of technology addiction and screen addiction. A device that is built to get the information he needs as quickly as possible off the internet, and then, just as quickly, encourages him to cease using the device. We don’t stay on an airplane after it has taken us to our destination. Nor should we encourage staying on a device after we have reached the information we have sought. It is filled with software that assists in this goal.
Maybe it goes greyscale after ten minutes of mindless internet browsing. Maybe after half an hour it changes pictures on the web to gradually more and more pixelated images, encouraging the user to get off the web. It is smart enough to identify mindless browsing versus active searching.
It is a device that ties physical activity to screen time. I don’t let my son watch TV if his homework is not done. The device assists me in this as a parent. Perhaps it measures his physical activity each day and won’t unlock game apps until he walks two miles or reaches a specific activity goal for the day.
It is difficult to keep track of how long one is online because there are no environmental cues. Five minutes of browsing can turn into a multi hour click trance far too easily. The device is built fully aware of this. It reminds him constantly how long he has been online. A timer in the corner of the screen tracks his daily usage. Perhaps the time grows larger and larger until it blocks most of the screen, encouraging him to get off the device because it is not good for him. Maybe it helps him learn to become more efficient and focused online because he only has forty-five minutes a day before the device becomes just a phone.
It is a device that watches over him on the internet the same way that I watch over him on a crowded city street. When a stranger tries to inappropriately contact him, it blocks the action, and if the stranger does it again, it notifies me.
It is a device that recognizes his right to privacy. It protects and blocks websites from tracking his every move, letting him read about controversial topics or opposing political parties without it someday being used against him. It protects his right to explore the world without his data constantly being stolen and sold to corporations. I don’t let strangers on the street use his image in advertisements for their profit, nor should online corporations be able to use his data for their own enrichment.
It is a device that is virtually connected with the other devices in our family. When it is dinner it knows to put itself in a silent, non-interactive mode. Family time is protected time. If he wants to sneak his phone to the table that’s fine- it will be a useless hunk of metal and glass, making itself worthless and essentially invisible so that family time is family time. But as soon as dinner is over, and we head off in our own directions for the evening, it comes back to life. I don’t have to fight with him to put his phone down. It knows when dinner is and shuts itself off to encourage him to be present.
It is a device that actively fights all attempts to hijack my son’s attention and hook him to the screen. It is a teacher when I am not with him, pointing out attempts to hijack his attention, pointing out the techniques that are being used to trap him. Over time the attention hijacking techniques fail because my son is an expert at identifying them because his and my ally, the device, has taught him.
It is a device that I don’t have to worry about if he has it in his room at night next to his bed. It has a robust AI that is his advocate and protector. I will know that even when I am not keeping an eye on my son, the device is; the same way our German Shepherd is watching the house while we sleep. It is a tool, giving him access to all the wonders of the internet, but more importantly it is also a limited barrier between him and the internet when I cannot be there to watch over him. It gives him access to the world but does not give the world access to him.
Lastly it is a device that can grow as my son grows. It recognizes as he gets older it needs to actively filter less and less of the web. But it is still there, vigilantly protecting his data and attention, encouraging healthy behaviors, and helping him grow into a healthy, educated, and technology savvy adult.
As a father, I would pay a lot of money for such an ally, such a device.