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Digital Bedtime Stories Are Tricks, Not Treats

Now there's a way to read bedtime stories to your kids without actually being there. <a href="http://kottke.org/09/11/bedtime-stories-via-webcam">Jason Kottke calls the system "slick.</a>" I call it sickening.

Michael Hickins

November 3, 2009

3 Min Read

Now there's a way to read bedtime stories to your kids without actually being there. Jason Kottke calls the system "slick." I call it sickening.Funny thing is that I was stricken with a bad case of nostalgia while enjoying what is likely one of the last times my daughter is going to trick-or-treat; she's thirteen and almost too grown up for that kind of activity, and even this year, she told me "it's not about the candy, dad."

What I was thinking last Saturday as I sat on the steps of my sister-in-law's house in Brooklyn giving out candy to the zillions of little kids dressed up as robots and firemen and genies was that this was really social networking at its best. There simply isn't a better way of rewarding our kids for their ingenuity and their courage (traipsing up to a perfect stranger, plastic pumpkin outstretched, is a lot harder than it looks when you're four years old), nor is there a better way of welcoming recent immigrant children to our giddily optimistic and goofy society (I'm talking to the parents who walk their kids around the neighborhood wearing Viking horns or clown noses) than by handing them a bit 'o honey and congratulating them on their creative costume design.

And there's no better way to meet fellow parents and neighbors who represent the best of our human natures. Thankfully, I thought, there's no digital Halloween to keep us apart.

Which brings me back to A Story Before Bed. This might seem like a good idea, particularly for those of us who travel a lot and miss a lot of bedtimes.

But it's actually a horrible and hollow idea. Much better is to take greater advantage of the times when we're actually physically around to tell the story; and for grandparents far away, a handwritten letter, with quirky handwriting and unique syntax, is more intimate than any video could ever be. (By the way, I'm not denigrating video chats -- on the contrary, they're a vast improvement on phone calls -- but they're not intended to replace a bedtime story told by a beloved warm body sitting on the edge of your bed.)

I'm a big fan of social networking as a way of keeping us connected, whether we're talking about media that keep us connected to people we already know, or sites that introduce us to new friends. But we need to remain vigilant about letting technology replace us where it needn't.

As a society, we've shown how easily we're swayed by marketing (and "slick" marketing in particular, Jason), especially where our convenience is concerned. My worry is that, given the hours we all work and the increased demands upon us to be more productive than ever, we could be easily tempted to record bedtime stories for our kids when we're feeling refreshed and awake as an alternative to forcing ourselves to read for a half-hour at the end of a crushing day. We could just sit there in front of the TV while our kids watched us lovingly read to them from a virtual distance.

That would suck, but the real Halloween story would be if they couldn't tell the difference.

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