There are some real advantages to having children. An excuse to see movies you would otherwise be too embarrassed to watch. Classic holiday photos, especially if you add a dog to the mix. An ongoing, intimate connection to pop culture that makes you seem (sorta) cool, long after your own coolness has been swept away by those hot winds of time.
In fairness, I'm jaded. My own kids are grown — long past that puppy stage when everything inappropriate was not only acceptable but cute. A puppy drinking from the kitchen sink may seem adorable. But it's not quite as endearing when it’s a full-grown Rottweiler.
As the parent of borderline adult children, you have to look harder and longer to find things to make you smile, or at least make you feel like there's a real payback for putting a metaphorical monkey on your back for years and years.
So it was with absolute delight, after my 23-year-old put her two-month old iPhone 5 in the washing machine that I discovered something of likely professional value. And anyone with a connection to marketing or technology may likely think that's true, too.
The fact is, the whole thing about the "always on, always connected customer" may be a myth … or at least less inevitable than we seem to think.
'I Put it in a Bag of Rice'
A few days after the iPhone met the washing machine, I asked my daughter what she planned to do about the phone. "I put it in a bag of uncooked rice to see if it dries out. But the thing is, I really don't feel like having a phone right now."
Her words surprised me, not because I thought it was naive to put a severely waterlogged phone in uncooked rice, but because she wasn't the first millennial that I'd heard express disdain for a phone. Just a week before, my 22-year-old son — a Linux programmer and arguable geek — told me how much he hated his phone.
Was this just some parentally induced phone phobia or did it underscore a broader pattern among young adults? To find out, I traveled to Grand Central Terminal in New York City, where I informally polled a dozen 20-somethings. The question: How lost would you feel without your phone?
And a third of those questioned said not at all.
One noted, "Over the summer I was without a phone for extended periods once or twice, and it didn't particularly bother me. The major problem was actually other people. Everybody else is so connected that once I was without a phone it become that much more difficult to coordinate with friends."
But beyond that, he said, it was refreshing.
Granted, this was not a scientific study. The sample was too small to be statistically significant and it was only as random as the geography of the travelers. But every study starts with a theory. And here is mine: Maybe the allure of universal, round-the-clock connectivity will fade as quickly as boom boxes, VCRs and tiny cupcakes.
A Symbol of What?
As early as 1994, the New York Times ran an article about the mobile phone becoming a status symbol. And it was: back then, only the wealthiest, most successful people could make calls on the run — and it would be years before the Blackberry made doing things like checking email equally as easy.