Future generations will never believe it. They will scarcely be able to imagine a time, not so long ago, but which already feels as if it were a different age, far removed from the present day.
But it really happened.
Once upon a time (as all good stories begin), families packed up their one and only family car with tent poles and picnic baskets, heading off on vacation to unknown parts of the country with only a folded map from the local service station and loads of common sense to help them find their way. They almost always made it to their destination and back home again, and sometimes they found a few unexpected turns and surprises along the way.
Once upon a time, when teenagers left the house for a night of scooping the loop, parents stopped them at the door to make sure they had a dime in their pocket, just to make sure they could make a telephone call in case of an emergency.
Once upon a time, the phone never rang during dinner; thumbs were used for hitching a ride inside of texting a friend; and while we couldn’t keep up with friends on Facebook, we did have a delightful thing called a party line, which really kept neighbors up to date on one another’s happenings — whether you wanted it to or not.
Like I said, future generations will never believe it.
Technology has wrapped itself into the fabric of everyday family life, changing the way parents and children communicate with each other, how we plan our days and our trips, how we study, and even how we entertain. And it’s happened far more rapidly than any techno or industrial revolution that ever came before it.
Alyssa Blake Callaway and her husband Chris Callaway grew up in those seemingly distant years. They remember them well. But their son, Lewis, is all of 11 years old, and already his parents can scarcely remember a time when Lewis wasn’t the first in the family to embrace each emerging form of technology.
“His interest in technology started when he was really little,” Alyssa recalls. “He would go to visit my parents, and my mom would try to get him into the toy aisle, but even at 2 years old he wanted extension cords. He always wanted cords, and extensions, and plug-ins.”
Mountain View, Calif., can claim Steve Jobs as a hometown boy. Seattle, Wash., has Bill Gates. Some day, Clear Lake, Iowa, might just be known as the city where Lewis Callaway went to school and grew up.
Put another way, the Peanuts Comic Strip character Schroeder is to music as Lewis is to the computer. He likes Apple computers almost as much as he likes the Iowa State Cyclones, or maybe it’s the other way around.
As with many families, Alyssa says it’s been the younger generation leading the way in pushing the family to acquire new technology.
“He’s really guided us as far as what we have,” she says. “He saved his money and bought his own laptop when he was 9 years old.”
Of course, Alyssa adds, it doesn’t hurt that Lewis has “pretty generous grandparents.”
Still, it was up to Lewis to put aside birthday money and other gifts to fatten the piggy bank enough to buy his first laptop.
These days he’s mowing lawns and doing other jobs to save up enough money for a MacBook Pro. By doing so, he’s also learning responsibility and the value of a dollar, but Alyssa says those grandparents really are a blessing.
“When he was 9, pretty much all he had to do was smile at his grandparents,” she says.
Fortunately, the grandparents are also benefiting from the arrangement. When Grandma has a computer issue of her own, she knows who to call.
“He has screen shared with his grandma when she has had computer problems,” Alyssa says.
While this grandmother lives in Forest City, Lewis was able to bring up her computer screen on his own computer here in Clear Lake to diagnose the problem.
Screens are something that Lewis has no shortage of in his basement computer center. A popular gathering spot for his friends, this “computer fort” or boy’s “computer cave” includes a Mac and a Dell controlling three different screens. There’s even a bit of nostalgia as sitting beside the screens is an old fashion tube TV that Lewis can use for some of his video productions.
Yes, video productions. He has a homemade green screen to do enhanced video graphics. Looking a lot like an old sheet, this green screen also gives the computer center the feel of a fort where kids have long let their imaginations run wild.
We asked that group of friends — sixth and seventh graders in Clear Lake — what was better: a tree house or this makeshift computer fort?
The answer: “It’s a lot better than tree houses because tree houses don’t have plug-ins,” they answered in near unison.
One of the boys hanging out in the computer fort this day was Carson Meyer, a seventh grader who saved up his money to buy something even Lewis doesn’t have yet: an iPad.
“I saved up for one mainly because I didn’t want to have to share it with the rest of my family,” Carson says.
His favorite app is Garage Band, which allows him to create his own music. He’s recently taken up the guitar, and while he’s not sure Garage Band makes him a better player, he says it sure is fun.
With more technology at home, Carson says computers come in handy for more serious pursuits, such as researching materials when he has a book report to write at school.
Much to the envy of his friends, Carson’s other big piece of technology is an Android smart phone. Another friend, sixth-grader Joel Groeneweg, is still waiting for his first cell phone — and he isn’t fussy about whether or not it’s a smart phone.
“I’d be OK with a flip phone; I’d love that thing to pieces,” he says with a grin.
For the most part, Joel says he depends on his mp3 player for most of his technology. The device allows him to listen to music or put up videos.
David Guetzlaff, a sixth grader, is happy with his TracFone, but he’d also like to have an iPad.
As the holiday season approaches, parents can expect to hear lots of wishes for smart phones and laptops and tablets, but it’s still the parents in the driver’s seat for choosing technology. Lewis didn’t even have to ask for his first cell phone; leaving their young son alone at camp for the first time prompted the purchase as a way to stay connected.
“He went to a technology camp at Iowa State a couple summers ago, and when we dropped him off, we just looked at each other and said, ‘Whoa.’ It seemed a little scary to us, and we went out and bought a TracFone for him,” she says.
Lewis still gets by with a basic phone, but Chris and Alyssa have smart phones.
“I have an iPhone, and Lewis has iPhone envy,” Alyssa says a smile.
While many of the things she does on her iPhone could be done or a simpler phone — calling her parents, texting — she is finding more and more uses for the high tech phone as her son advances in school.
“Now that Lewis is in sixth grade, Infinite Campus is a bigger thing,” she explains.
The iPhone allows her to log on to Clear Lake School’s Infinite Campus and view such things as grades, attendance and announcements as posted. She also uses her iPhone for news apps, to keep an organized calendar and Twitter.
“I’m not real big on Twitter, but I do follow Lewis on Twitter,” she says.
Likewise, she checks in on his Facebook page, even though neither Chris nor Alyssa have a page of their own. While they have a great deal of trust in how their son uses the Internet, they are also sure to have his passwords so they can see if a problem does develop.
“We have accountability as parents to watch what he does on the Internet,” Chris explains.
Fortunately for them, they can be proud of not only what he’s viewing, but what he’s posting. Working from that basement computer fort, Lewis has his own video production company. He’s done one wedding, has two more booked and even completed a professional-style video for Oakwood Care Center in Clear Lake as part of an education and fundraising event for breast cancer awareness.
Internet users can see the video at www.lewisproductions.com — yes, he also has his own website and blog. Visitors will see local firemen dancing and residents having a great time with their pink gloves. Beginning Oct. 12 and continuing through Oct. 26, net users can vote for Lewis’ local video at www.pinkglovedance.com.
Perhaps much of his success can be attributed to a total lack of the fear of failure.
“There’s nothing called the ‘Cancel’ button to me; it’s always OK,” Lewis says.
Alyssa agrees that kids seem to have an inborn willingness to just see what works, and what doesn’t.
“I think all these kids are not afraid to experiment. We, as adults, are afraid that we’ll mess up. Kids are just willing to try and keep going,” she notes.
As much as Lewis and his friends love technology, they still enjoy just being kids.
“All of these boys are not the kind of kids who sit at their computer all day,” says Alyssa.
Many of them are involved in Boy Scouts and get their share of camping and fishing time. And after showing a visitor all around their computer fort, the boys quickly headed out into the sunshine to replay their own version of the Iowa/Iowa State football game.
Making technology part of family requires a kind of balance, according to Alyssa, and she’s glad the boys enjoy getting outside as much as they do logging on.