Steve Jobs, A Low-tech Parent

Bill Gates is walking along the ocean shore when he discovers a bottle in the sand.  He pulls out the cork and a genie appears. The genie says, “I have been trapped inside this container for over one-hundred years.  As a reward for releasing me, you can make one wish.”  The founder of Microsoft thinks about this as he carries the bottle back to his beach house.  Once there, he goes to the bookshelf, pulls out an atlas, and turns to a map of the Middle East.  The world’s richest man then says, “This area of the globe has seen nothing but conflict, suffering, and bloodshed for many thousands of years.  Therefore, what I wish for is peace in the Middle East.”  The genie replies, “I know I can do a lot of stuff, but this!  Don’t you have something else you can wish for?”  The computer icon mulls things over for a moment and says, “Okay, how about this.  The whole world hates us because we have  conquered the software market and yet our Windows program still crashes.  I wish for you to make every computer user on the planet love us.”  And the genie says, “Can I see that map again.”  Actually there are two computer icons – Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (Apple). And it is the latter I want to talk about because of something a hi-tech magazine reporter recently shared.  When Steve Jobs was running Apple, he was known to call journalists to either pat them on the back for a recent article or, more often than not, explain how they got it wrong.  I was on the receiving end of a few of those calls.  But nothing shocked me more than something the Apple founder said to me in late 2010 after he had finished chewing me out for something I had written about an iPad shortcoming.

“So, your kids must love the iPad,” I said to Mr. Jobs, trying to change the subject (the company’s first tablet was just out).  “They haven’t used it,” he told me,“we really limit how much technology our children have at home.”  I’m sure I  responded first with a gasp and then silence.  I had always imagined the Job’s household was like a nerd’s paradise: the walls were giant touch screens, the dining room table was made from squares of iPads, and iPods were handed out to guests like chocolates on a pillow.  Nope, Jobs told me, not even close.  Since then, when interviewing other technology chief executives I have asked the same question and received similar replies: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights and allocating ascetic time periods over weekends.  This parenting style greatly perplexed me.  After all, most dads and moms seem to take just the opposite approach, letting their children bathe in the glow of technology gadgets day and night.  Yet, these tech CEO’s seem to know something that the rest of us don’t.  Evan Williams, the inventor of Twitter, perhaps put it best, “My five kids accuse my wife and I of being dictators when it comes to  technology control in our home.  Their constant refrain is that none of their friends have the same rules.  But this is because we’ve seen  firsthand the addictive dangers of technology.  I’ve seen it in myself  and I don’t want the same happening to our children.”  I never did get to ask Steve Jobs what his children did instead of using the gadgets he had built, so I reached out to Walter Isaacson,  Job’s official biographer, who spent a lot of time at their home.  “Every evening, Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books, history, a variety of different things.  No one ever pulled out an iPad.  His kids did not seem to be addicted at all to these devices.”
The bottom line?  Something for parents to think about.