The stereotype of the “iPad baby” has become one of the most detestable and looked-down-upon images in recent history. We as a society tend to look on in disgust at the parents of sticky-handed, wide-eyed children at restaurants, their toddler connected mind, body and soul to their overly screen-protected and intensely loud iPad as you try to enjoy dinner with your family. Whether it be the catchy songs of “CoComelon” or the bright-colored pictures and toys of the YouTube channel “Ryan’s World,” toddlers of this day and age are seemingly obsessed with technology. They just can’t seem to take their eyes (and hands, and mouths) off of it.
Sure, members of Generation Z are met with similar arguments, whether it be complaints that we are “always on Insta-space-ta-gram” (one of my dad’s personal favorites), or that one day we will eventually lose our eyesight from the perpetual blue light or get “tech” or “text” neck. These comments don’t scare us, and we continue to text, tweet and post because it’s what we know. We have grown up in the age of social media, and it is our way to communicate our thoughts and express ourselves. But, as opposed to the toddlers of this generation, we grew up reading picture books for fun, watching “Dora the Explorer” in the comfort of our own homes and coloring on the paper placemats at restaurants with chunky crayons: there were no iPads in sight.
I don’t mean to sound like a total “well, back in my day…” kind of person, but, yeah, “back in my day” (meaning, of course, the late 2000s and early 2010s), we didn’t bring technology to the table. Growing up, my first access to technology was my green iPod Shuffle, which I shared with my sister, and it solely played the soundtrack to High School Musical. I would have never thought to use it at family times because, honestly, things felt different about technology back then, in the early childhood of Generation Z. At that moment in my personal and emotional development, I was not reliant on technology as a form of comfort or entertainment.
With this having been said, going through the last two years of a global pandemic has possibly changed my perspective on the phenomena of this elusive “iPad baby,” and this constant dependency on media. Now, I may even understand the placative qualities that this huge screen provides to its user, and empathize with the cause.
The pandemic has brought many of us back to old pleasures we may have had in the past, or given us the opportunity to try out new ones. Whether it be reading all those books you forgot about on your shelf, knitting dozens of (unwanted) scarves for your family, trying out that baking recipe you keep forgetting to do or binge-watching all of the programs and films you’ve missed out on because of work or school, we’ve all found ways to cope with the constant state of uncertainty with the help of light-hearted distraction, and more importantly, media.
I have personally (and rather unashamedly) found myself clutching to any sort media possible in the last two years, including rewatching comfort television shows, reading piles of novels and getting through 3,000 levels of Candy Crush. I am constantly scrolling my TikTok “For You” page, and I am religiously up to date with my “Goodreads” and “Serializd” accounts. I’ve become dependent upon my phone and laptop to provide me the perfect elixir of distraction from real life, whether that be school, politics or the pandemic. In all honesty, it has worked in the long run for the better of my mental health.
Psychological studies tend to say the same thing. In a report from Common Sense Media, it was found that 21% of young people said that using social media helped them feel “less alone” amid the pandemic (up from 15% in 2018), and 43% of respondents, aged 14 to 22, found that social media has eased nerves and the likelihood of depressive episodes. The upwards tilt in the usage of social media platforms, video-call services and streaming platforms is not unexplained by psychologists and media analysts: it has helped young people everywhere feel better about themselves and their surroundings, especially in such isolating and distressing circumstances.
As a society, we have deemed a reliance on media to be unbecoming and antisocial. Anyone who binges one too many episodes on Netflix is considered to be lazy, and anyone who likes one too many posts on Instagram is considered an addict. This stigma, especially in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic-influenced world, is incredibly damaging. It makes people who see media consumption as a form of comfort feel poorly about their coping mechanisms, that they should instead be “doing something with their lives.” Well, in the year 2022, I happen to believe that just getting through your day is doing something, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed, no matter how many times you may have stopped to send out a tweet or sat down to watch a movie to do it. It’s still getting by.We look down on the “iPad baby” since it’s unnatural to us. At their age, we were comforted in different ways. But being a toddler in the pandemic is hard in and of itself, and we can’t help but sympathize with them and their cries of emotional pain when their mother takes away their tablet, because inside, each of us is, in our own way, a toddler; we feel this same codependency. The pandemic has made each of us reliant on technology to cope: the bright screen of an iPhone filling up that isolating void of quarantine and uncertainty. We must realize that, deep down, we are just like those sticky and drooly toddlers, because we too need the help of a screen at times.
Lindsey Spencer is an Opinion Columnist & can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org