I opened Google Play Store as he watched then, from no where, he asked, “Daddy, una download nini?”
He had just turned two. I hadn’t explicitly told him what Download is or means. At that age he had learnt a number of tech jargon including being able to differentiate between a smartphone, mini-tab and a tablet. He knew what a Samsung phone is and how a tecno phone looks like. He had learnt how to access his user account in my laptop and play his favorite music, videos and games. But I hadn’t told him anything about downloading.
“Daddy una download nini?” he repeated the question and for a second time I didn’t answer. Instead I stared at him wondering whether he had got inspiration from up above. Then I remembered he has a mother. I called her and asked, “Did you teach him anything about download?”
“Then where did he hear about the word download?”
“From us?” she wondered.
“How did he know that Google Play Store has anything to do with download?” I enquired.
“Remember he is a keen observer” she said.
He had learnt a lot from observation alone. By himself he had learnt that to watch his favorite animations or cartoons the DVD had to be inserted into the DVD Player and turned to DVD mode by pressing the Function button, then the TV turned on and AV1 selected through the remote. If the TV wasn’t in AV1, he would hunt you down from wherever you are hiding in the house with the remote in his hand, and drag you to go and change the input to AV1. He had observed that after watching a movie, the TV is turned off and the DVD Player is turned to fefem (radio) and tuned to Nation FM. I had known all that, but I hadn’t figured out that he could be able to associate opening an App like Google Play Store with a word like download.
“Daddy una download gari?” he asked after the conversation between me and his mom was over, and that’s when I remembered how a few weeks earlier I had told him not to cry as I was about to download gari for him, but the download could not complete as Safaricom Internet was at peak hours. He had to wait. I had to close and open the Google Play Store several times while cursing the slow Safaricom Internet speed.
It’s almost a year since he surprised me with the question and from then I have taught him a lot more about laptops, smartphones, tablets and the Internet than I have taught any other human. He already knows how to arrange chess pieces on the chessboard. He has become that guy you can safely leave your phone with for a week and get it back without a scratch. He has known that to watch “mtoto kuimba” he needs to go to YouTube.
Last evening I had to take him to a barber shop to have his hair prepared for his third birthday celebrations. It was a cold chilly drizzling evening but the shop was packed with kids. I wondered whether everyone else had their kids celebrating their birthdays same time as mine. So we had to wait for our turn.
I was seated by the door to shield my son from the biting cold; staring out at the drizzling rain, watching those running in the rain and those shielding their heads and not bodies from the rain drop. Then she walked in straight to the door and stood next to me.
She was dark. Beautiful dark. And she needed tokens. The barber shop, in addition to shaving people’s heads and trimming eye brows, also sells KPLC tokens. But the tokens were out and so she was advised to use MPESA. “I don’t know how to do that” she replied to the MPESA for KPLC tokens suggestion. “Then go and bring your phone and I’ll show you how”. She went.
In minutes she was back but she wasn’t alone. With her was a bunch of kids 9-15 years making a lot of noise. Worst was that one of them had my name, my sacred name. I have this name that I believe very few people outside my clan and larger clan have, because nowadays no body is born in a cow den, not me, not anyone I have come across. Not even my father who gave me the name. Like Jesus, the grandfather to my father was born in a cow den and was consequently named Odipo, Dipo being a Luo word for a place or enclosure where cows spend their night. The fact that the little girls kept calling him Odipo drew my attention as most of the time I thought it’s me they were calling. They were calling his name over and again because he had a phone, and the phone had Internet. I didn’t hear exactly what was happening in the Internet that would excite a bunch of teenage kids as I was concentrating in studying Odipo’s morphology to ascertain that my father didn’t stray.
“Utakumbuka?” the barber who was helping the dark beauty interrupted my scrutiny. He had just showed her how to buy tokens using MPESA. She responded with a yes then walked out, and off she went, tagging the bunch of kids along with her.
“Watoto wasikuhizi wame haribika sana” uttered the barber who was busy with my son’s head.
“Mbona?” I asked
“Mtoto hata hajafikisha mwika kumi na asha anza kuulizia story za Internet?”
“Ni vile wame zaliwa na Internet” I answered.
The second and the third barbers joined in the conversation, each one arguing against introducing technology to kids as young as 10 years old. “What do they do online?” “Why do their parents allow them to own phones that have access to the Internet? Or even own phones at all?” “What time do they study?” were some of the several questions they were asking themselves as the conversation picked and heated up.
I didn’t know how to respond without offending them. Should I tell them that my son already knows how to access YouTube content without help and he is turning three, not ten? That he knows how to access his user account in my laptop and play his favorite car chasing game? That he can use the shortcut I have put for him to access Chess.com and play around with chess pieces so long as the Internet is on? That he knows how Facebook Interface looks like? That he will always come to me and tell me that mom is busy reading Facebook? Or should I play along and condemn those kids for being wajuaji at their tender ages?
Then I remembered I am a tech blogger and as a blogger one of my mandates is to educate the public on the usefulness of technology.
“Technology ina mambo, lakini uzuri hivi karibuni tuta kuwa na Bill Gates wetu?”
“Bill Gates ndio nani sasa?”
Yes there are people who don’t know who the hell Bill Gates is.
“The richest guy in the world. Alitumia computers kupata pesa?” I explained. Then I lied, “Unajua yeye alizaliwa na computers. Ndio maana aliweza kutengeza mambo za computer mpaka akawa mdosi kushinda kila mtu duniani?”
“Aah?” One of them wondered.
And the conversation went on. I explained to them how in the developed world access to technology at tender ages has helped them be years ahead technologically and consequently economically. Then one of them remembered a documentary where a kid was able to get help from the police simply because he knew how to use a phone. By the time my son’s head was done, all were in agreement that I shouldn’t keep my son off the Internet, but as a good parent, I must implement monitoring tools so that my son doesn’t turn out to be one those spoilt kids.
If you are a young parent like me you must be wondering how to allow your kids prosper in the world of tech but at the same time remain reasonably human. A human that is safe, cordial, cautious and courteous. Well, Kachwanya had already got you covered when he wrote the article, Teens online – How to Keep the Smartphone Generation from going Kaboom. Read it and implement. Even as you implement, remember that kids learn a lot more by observing what you do, and how you do it.
My son is now three. Happy birthday son and may you grow to be the next Ray Kurzweil.