Author: Alessandro Tome
‘The amount of unnecessary tension and arguments inspired by iPads is mind-boggling. And by the time you realise there might be a problem, there really is a problem’
Roald Dahl has inspired me with his oh so prescient poem called Television. He would turn in his grave at my poetry, I know — I am only partially, if sadly, reprieved by the fact that he is probably turning exponentially more violently so because of what we have let Apple and their lesser followers do to a generation of children. Actually, that is unfair on Apple.
There will always be peddlers of potions, conjurers of magic, mystic illusionists and plain old con artists. There will always be candy-store sellers and drug pushers. And all of them will always sell the same story: ‘If you buy this and use it, your life will be better, your problems will go away, your wishes will become true, the world will be a better place. You can barely afford it we know, but it is worth it, I promise. And of course, you can always stop taking it if you don’t like it any more.’
And that is what Apple and its late-blooming cohorts sell. Practical, sexy, smooth status symbols to help access the world, share, learn, educate, answer, resolve, discover, invent, design, develop, watch, see, hear, play, make, bake while they take it and rake it in. Brilliant devices, make no mistake. Absolutely. And the more so for it is their sheer brilliance that makes them totally addictive. And of course, the most addicted are the youngest.
To them, these devices are becoming mere extensions of their being. They are so agile, mentally and physically, their limbs and brains still so malleable, adaptable, influenceable that they find it innate to interact with any iSomething. Their rate of learning and absorption is the highest it will be for all their lives, and we as parents are risking letting them become more influenced by iThings than by schoolteachers and by us. Dahl aptly wrote in his poem:
It rots the sense in the head!
It kills imagination dead!
It clogs and clutters up the mind!
It makes a child so dull and blind,
He can no longer understand,
A fantasy, a fairyland!
His brain becomes as soft as cheese!
His powers of thinking rust and freeze!
He cannot think — he only sees!
Apple makes the drug but leaves it to us to administer it or not, and in what dosage. We are responsible to then manage, or not, the addiction — and addiction it is. I personally didn’t choose to give the twins iPad minis; that decision was taken out of my hands by a generous and well-meaning godparent, which left me with no choice but to make things even by gifting one to the other twin. And from here on in I have so far failed. Failed to identify the risks, failed to manage them, failed to deal with their consequences.
At least I managed to somewhat restrict the type of content available to them — so far. But I am also painfully aware that it is a mere Band-aid trying to stem a tide of filth. No filter can stop them putting the word ‘breasts’ in Google Images and seeing what comes up — enough to shock them for a lifetime — or other friends with older brothers showing them the way around most filters. So Band-aid and prayers it is, for the lack or better alternatives.
The results of these failures have been quite apparent, and on the whole unpleasantly so. I cannot think of a recent day — let alone weekend, week or holiday — where there hasn’t been a drama of one type or another, from very mild to atomic, somehow related to iUse or restriction thereof. The amount of unnecessary tension and arguments inspired by iPads is mind-boggling. And it permeates slowly, so that by the time you realise there might be a problem, there really is a problem.
Teaching games, puzzles, spelling, discovering and exploring inexorably lead to football, car chases, gizmos swooping, clan wars and everything else you can think of, none of it educational. This results in moods, tiredness, eye-googliness, headaches, irritability, lack of enthusiasm or interest in anything other than ‘i’, you name it.
we’re all hooked
Someone may accuse us parents of iHypocrisy, as a friend put it, with our own obsessive use of Crackberries, mobiles and devices of all sorts. Of course we rationalise this by explaining it is work for us, and only fun for them. But isn’t the addiction still an addiction? Does it not also turn us into grumpy, stressed-out, unfocused, mechanical extensions of the electroinic world? Don’t our kids complain just as much about us as we do about them on this subject, that we are always texting someone or writing a ‘quick’ email, for work, and it can’t wait and can they please be quiet while we focus? And aren’t we just charming when we leave our mobile at home, or lose it and can’t get our fix? We are just like them, really.
Because just like with us, when you want to take the iThing away, I think they can make any addiction counsellor earn his keep, and how. But recently I tried to take control back, while wearing a helmet and flak jacket. We spent the day so busy, outdoors, learning fly-fishing and knot-tying and exploring the edges of a lake and its insect life, that iUse was non-existent even for me, if occasionally pined for. They learnt something new, for real. And then a nice dinner, recollecting and laughing, no moodiness in sight, overall a wonderfully normal family day, at least as I recollected them to be in pre-‘i’Days.
So I will keep my flak jacket on a while longer and stick to the plan and try to reasonably manage the Apple of Original Sin encouraged in my endeavours by Dahl’s updated instructions, both for them and for us bigger kids and throw that iThing away:
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells,
The bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two…
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine…
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
Five countries in five tiny morsels: that is what lay hidden under the Chinese lantern. This was our first taste of anything made by the magical hands of one of three Roca brothers at their restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, the latest holder of the ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ accolade. I was recently lucky enough to get a table — or rather, I was lucky enough to count as a friend gastronomist extraordinaire Rafael Anson, who got me the table.
Since my late father got me hooked on this ephemeral and rarefied food by taking me to El Bulli, way before Ferran Adrià merited an art exhibition over here, I have tried to visit once a year whichever restaurant may be the ‘Best Restaurant in the World’. This is in my father’s memory, but it’s now very much for my pleasure, too. It got me four unforgettable meals at El Bulli and one fascinating if less exciting one at Noma, and now I was about to give my senses away to the Roca brothers.
I was thrilled, if a little nervous. After El Bulli it’s always going to be a tall order. But these three brothers are exceptional. Inspired by a lifetime surrounded by first grandma’s and then ma’s cooking in the family bar/restaurant, they learnt about real cooking and flavours and wines. And now they share that with you, in a subtle yet mesmerising fashion.
Take ‘Japan’ — a little green macadamia-sized ball that has the outer consistency of tofu, with an inner core of semi-liquid that first starts with miso soup flavours and drifts to wasabi and smoked fish. Or ‘China’, in the form of a miniature rolled pancake that is actually the crispy part, with a whiff of plum sauce and spring onion, that dissolves into sweet and sour and finishes into five-spice. Or ‘Mexico’, which starts with avocado and then onion, moving on to fiery chilli with a hint of tequila, ‘Peru’, which zings you with lime and fish and Pisco, and finally ‘Morocco’, which entices with cinnamon, honey, rose and was it pigeon, really?
The Roca brothers were born and raised in the heart of a family kitchen and that gives them an unrivalled understanding of what food really stirs our heart and imagination.