Kids Use Ipad in Car?

Long car trip, many miles to go
with 1 dog and 2 kids..should we bring out the Ipads?

Are we there yet? Displayed in text as a green road sign. There are puffy white clouds in the background.
It’s a sign of a long trip. Are we there yet?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: We have a long cross-country trip ahead of us. We have two kids and one dog.  Our dog can’t get on the airplane, so we decided to take him with us. I think it is OK to let the children have their own Ipad in the car to watch a kid’s show or play games. My wife says I am taking the easy way out and we should not allow them to have the Ipads. What would you do?  The children, by the way, are ages eight and four.  Max, Boston.

Dear Max: You asked me what I would do- seriously, I would fly, but then there’s the dog, and keeping the family Covid safe. It’s good that you and your spouse are having this discussion about digital media before you set out. 

It is hard to peer out of the back-seat window for days on end. But, it’s also hard to drive with noisy, restless kids. Perhaps download a number of family-oriented books-on-tapes before you go. That way, as you drive, you can share the content together. If you give them Ipads, it is one-on-one media. You lose the ability to talk together and bring an adult view to the kid content. 

Let’s Get Bored!

But, importantly, do not underestimate the power of kids getting bored. Each person has to solve it individually and learn that feeling bored is normal. It can also become the gateway to creative thinking and focus. There is so much media to entertain young children today (and keep them quiet) that we overlook the value of downtime. A noted clinical psychiatrist says that boredom, not mental health, is the real issue bubbling up from the pandemic. So, in these times, we need to teach children that it’s OK to be bored. The psychiatrist notes that teens seems to need more novelty and sensation seeking, and their understimulated state opens the door to recreational drugs. So, a few days in the car without the Ipad may set younger kids on a better path. 

IRL Geography

Finally, there’s real educational value in experiencing the vast expanse of this country first-hand. It’s the IRL geography class. You’ll find lots of sites online for making it useful, like this one.  I would personally stop at each state’s Welcome Center so that Fido gets to stretch his legs, and the kids get a souvenir, and pick out free brochures and maps to then study in the car. Maybe your eight year old will want to keep a diary of the trip- either digitally or on paper. The point is to experience it first, record it later, and share it together. Have a good time and drive safe. 

Invest in Stocks by Phone?

Brand new investors are using their smartphones to buy and sell stocks. What are the trade (offs).

Robinhood is a site to buy and sell stocks. Three smartphone screen shots are shown, which mimic how a real trade would take be placed.
Robinhood trading platform

Dear Ms. Smartphone: You mentioned an investment in last week’s column so I decided to write you about that. I am finding myself with a lot of time on my hands, and not a lot of cash since I was laid off from construction in March. I opened up an account with a brokerage account that trades stocks and they have a no-fee policy. So, I log in there to buy and sell stocks. My wife says I am spending too much time on my phone, but I think that I am learning something new, and hope to make some spare cash on the side.  A.J., Alameda

Dear A.J.   You are not alone as thousands of new “retail clients” (industry talk) have jumped on the trading bandwagon during this crisis. You only need a brokerage account and a smartphone to get into the market.

One reason is that without sports to wager on, bettors have turned to day trading. Both professional and recreational gamblers are now in the stock market, according to Sports Illustrated. Once these traders are able to return to their regular activities, remember a quote from the venerated investor Warren Buffett: It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” (source: MarketWatch).

Invest in What you Know!

The other reason people are investing is that, like you, they have time, and need cash. DearSmartphone is not certified as an investment advisor, but she is on solid ground when she recommends that you do your homework, invest in companies or industries that you know something about (home builders? construction? materials?), hold a diversified portfolio and don’t put up the money you would normally use to pay the rent.

A concern, as your wife notes, is the time you amass on your phone now that you’ve become a stock trader. In recent times, but before smartphones, a stock broker (i.e. the certified investment advisor!)  would spend all day, at a desk, on a computer, following the market and individual stocks for clients. With changes in technology, everyone can now be their own stock broker, and move in-and-out of the market with lightning speed. 

The Social MediA of Wall St.

This new trading environment is volatile. It seems chaotic and it is susceptible to “fake news” and rumor. When it comes to investment tips, ads can be bought, ideas can be planted on social media or in newsletters, and CEO’s can spin speculative but hopeful stories. Any of these messages will rapidly diffuse into the larger information mainstream that investors, like yourself, tend to read or see. Those sources, not necessarily the underlying financials of the company, may swing the stock, options, and futures market up- and -down in micro-seconds. 

So, do use your smartphone to keep on top of the message stream and identify whether the sender and the story are credible (the research I mentioned). The Securities and Exchange Commission notes (2015) that social media can provide benefit for investors, but is also presents opportunities for fraudsters to engage in market manipulation or “pump and dump” schemes. It’s almost  like reading email: you are less susceptible if you know how to identify the spam and get rid of it.

As you spend more time on your phone with your stocks, I encourage you to ask if this is how you want to invest your two most precious resources: these are your time and your attention. You are channeling them to your device so make sure you enjoy the ride!

Zoom Fatigue: How to Overcome

A whiteboard is shown and for each day of the week, scheduled online meetings on zoom or facetime.
Zoom Fatigue! Photo Illustration: Dave Cole/WSJ

Dear Ms. Smartphone: After a meeting or two on Zoom, and even a catch-up with girl friends, I am zonked out. Sometimes I skip meals because I feel so fatigued and crawl into bed. It’s just the opposite for my son, who is now home from college. He goes on Zoom in the evening with his friends, and stays on it for hours. Then he’s spry and awake! Is this an age thing or something else?  Rupa, Berkeley

Dear Rupa: A lot of parents are asking the same thing. For elders, it’s an age thing because we did not come of age in the time of zoom. And, the two-way technology is still evolving so there are lots of asynchronous moments and dropped connections to challenge our patience. In a previous post I noted how our physical communications depend on being able to interpret very subtle non-verbal cues like an upturned smile, the twitch of an eye, or the flick of the hair. Most of these cues are at a subliminal level. Zoom meetings, as well as informal chats with our friends, can be stressful for those of us used to processing our social cues differently. 

The Lack of Multitasking

Like you, I find video chats to be draining but for an additional reason; it’s the absence of multi-tasking. When you phone me, say on a voice call or text, I might be doing other things….but you can’t see that.  We have gotten used to being mobile and doing lots of (other) things when we have 2 way communication. That level of distraction works most of the time, but not in the car. Focusing for an extended time on the red dot of the camera feels like I am in line-up in a police station (not that I will confess to that!)

Search for Best Zoom Games

When your son goes on Zoom and feels spry afterwards, that’s because he engages with his friends and content, in an entirely different manner. There are lots of third-party sites to link to, The list of games is long…but familiar. Search for games to play on Zoom: you’ll find Monopoly, Battleship, Pictionary, Guess Who, and many many more. Then there are the ‘Drinking Game’ versions, like Battleship with shot glasses….you get the picture! And, to my point about multi-tasking, just one kid needs to be on a computer. The rest can join in on their phones.  That means that they do not have to stay stationary, with eyes glued to the red dot. They are probably moving around the room, browsing other screens, and, of course, eating and drinking.

THINK LIKE A TEEN

In these times of quarantine, I would encourage anyone to try out these games with an old established  friend and picture yourself as a young teen. Experiment together. Put it this way: Imagine that it was 1915 and your family had just installed a new Bell phone. You were advised to use it only for emergencies or something urgent. Now fast-forward to 1960, and you are a teen, able to spend hours after school conversing with friends on Bell phones. My point is that technology changes over time, and what is once serious business morphs into social play.