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Computer wars, 1: Dent

Computer wars, 1: Dent

by Wolf Pascoe on January 5, 2011

Part 1 in a series of five posts.

Read: Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.



We’re here to put a dent in the universe.

Steve Jobs


Recently, Nick broke my laptop computer.

He’d given me a warning, but I missed it. He’d been playing a first-person shooter game he’d gotten obsessed with, a game that often frustrates him. He’d respond by pounding on the keyboard with his fists.

I wish I’d said, “Computers aren’t for banging. Is there something else you can do when you feel frustrated?”

I didn’t say it, of course. I didn’t get that maybe he wasn’t ready to play that particular game. Or that maybe something was wrong with the whole picture.

Sure enough, two weeks ago he came into my study in tears.

“Dada, I think I broke the computer.”

I went into the dining room to inspect my shiny Mac Book Pro. Two keys were non-functional.

“Did you hit the keys?” I said.

Yes, he said, breaking down in sobs.

“You got frustrated with the game?”

He nodded. “Is it broken? I’ll buy you a new one, dada.”

Words cannot describe what was going on in the pit of my stomach. A game had become this frustrating? This was new territory. Where was the map?

“I can’t talk about this now,” I said. “You don’t have to buy me a new computer. We’re going to work this out. I just need some time.”

“Can I use mommy’s computer?”

“No. No computer for now.”


“Three days. No computer for three days.”

“Okay, dada.”

Like many parents, I was proud when, as a toddler, Nick first got curious about a keyboard. I remember the moment when he realized that moving the mouse made something move on the screen. I saw a sudden quickening in his hands as he gripped the mouse tighter.

He was thinking, Aha! This is how the world works.

On a Mac, you can create a separate computer for a child, and impose parental controls on it. This I did, as Nick soon learned how a browser worked, and there were plenty of websites I didn’t want him to know about.

Together, we played little games on the Sesame Street website, planting flowers, guessing on shapes that Oscar had collected. Nick couldn’t read, which was actually an advantage.

My style was to follow instructions and proceed with caution. But Nick pressed keys fearlessly to see what would happen. Soon he knew how the Sesame Street games worked better than I did. I foresaw a bright digital future.

What had gone wrong?

In the early, Sesame Street days, it was all exploration and discovery and joy. But lately, I observed in retrospect, his sense of freedom was gone. His behavior on the computer had a compulsive, demanding quality that spilled over into his interactions with Nora and myself.

It’s easy to see it in retrospect that Nick’s frustration was out of control, but at the time I was oblivious. Now my computer was broken. The future that had spun off the road. And I had given myself three days to think over what I was going to do about it.

. . .

Next time: Wake up call . . .



You might also enjoy:

Media used to be so simple. Tom Lehrer on the silent e:




I used the television as a babysitter (a confession by Jack B.)




Any thoughts on kids, computers and media? I’d love you to add your comment below. I (nearly) always write a response here.

Want an alert to the next episode in the amazing adventures of Just Add Father? Scroll up to “Get E-mail updates” in the column to the right.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Charles Bernstein January 5, 2011 at 3:32 am

A very resonant post for all of us. (… and the world of social media headache and heartbreak awaits).


Wolf Pascoe January 5, 2011 at 5:07 am

What a world, what a world, what a world …


Sirena January 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I can’t wait to see what you did. If I were you, someone might have gotten hurt, but obviously your child is still living and unharmed so I’m sure you figured something more peaceful out. When I was Nick’s age I think I was still making “Witches Brew” out in the backyard with my sister which consisted of dirt, water, and any other flora available in the used metal ALL detergent bucket that our mother had given us to play with. If we got frustrated with the consistancy of the “brew” we just dumped it out and started over again. I love technology though, although I also have considered hitting my computer when things weren’t going well on it….


Wolf Pascoe January 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I used to hit my PC. Then I got a Mac and I hit it less now.


Sirena January 6, 2011 at 7:23 pm

I was talking about my Mac! But it’s better now – there was a huge learning curve when we went from PC to Mac, but fortunately at the time we had a 16 year-old who could help us when we got hysterical. I’ll never go back.


Wolf Pascoe January 7, 2011 at 2:14 am

ditto. nevernevernevernevernever


BigLittleWolf January 6, 2011 at 3:37 am

OK. Must I really admit to the advanced technology skills (and fearlessness) of my kids from an early age? (I think it’s the fearlessness that helps them.)

And how long do we have to wait until Part Deux? (Not three days, I hope…)


Wolf Pascoe January 6, 2011 at 4:02 am

Admit nothing. It’s always best. And yes, you have to wait three days.


Kate January 11, 2011 at 6:04 am

Your son is VERY lucky. In my house…that’s a punishable offense of being cast out onto the street.


Wolf Pascoe January 11, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I suppose the only reason I didn’t do that is that then I’d have nothing more to write about. 🙂


Tracy TC January 20, 2011 at 3:36 pm

W., you know how I feel about the digital world, so it won’t surprise you to learn that I share your pride in the fact that my child was drawn to the computer at an early page. Oh, the vanity. =-)

Fortunately, at our house we had an old PC hanging around from a closed business and a space to set it up. My daughter can bang away with abandon. Sometimes she likes to use my netbook or phone when we’re out and about. Then I have to definitely hold my breath. I’m sorry to hear about your shiny, beautiful Mac.


Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm

We were able to fix the Mac. He still uses it (not for shooter games.) I wonder if he’d look down his nose at an old PC.


Tracy TC January 20, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Of course he would look down on an old pc. All you maccies would. 🙂


Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2011 at 10:58 pm

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.


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