She stares at it like Tarzan would at a dishwasher.
This ‘thing’ is like nothing she has ever seen before. She pokes at it with a drool covered finger, she lifts it to her face trying to take a bite, she slams it to the floor and screeches at it. All to no avail - she remains none the wiser.
Bizarrely, it’s simply a Fisher Price chatter toy telephone, as familiar to most families from the 1980s as Bosco, Biddy, or butter vouchers. Yet my 14 month old daughter is oblivious.
She knows nothing of, and couldn’t care less about, its rotary dial, chord connected receiver, or tinnish ‘ring-ring’. Instead she picks an ‘old’ mobile phone of mine from her toy basket and holds a very one-sided indecipherable conversation with her Nana for twenty minutes.
This single display represents just one of all the generational differences that do, and will, exist between me and my daughter, between me growing up in the eighties, and her now.
As the youngest of a frankly ridiculous number of children growing up in 1980s Ireland, it’s no great shock to discover that I wasn’t very often photographed. By the time an 8th child comes along the novelty value of capturing their every move tends to have somewhat diminished. Combined with the relative expense of having a camera in those days, or perhaps more accurately of processing the film, the result is no photographs whatsoever of me before my 5th birthday.
My barely one year old daughter on the other hand, has her face plastered across more than three thousand digital images. I can conjure up her picture via facebook, from emails, off my computer, or on my phone at barely a few seconds notice. Every single week of her existence to date has been documented, not to mention soft-focused, highlighted, and rotated.
While one of the first photographs of me sees me in my first Holy Communion outfit, she already knows how to remove red-eye in photoshop.
Perhaps it’s a sign I’ve gone too far when she calls anyone she sees with a camera, ‘Dada’.
I’m not overly obsessive about safety; she has taken plenty of tumbles between the coffee table and the couch and eaten her fair share of long forgotten half-ligas magically exhumed from the bottom of a toy box. Even so, she will never experience what I can only kindly describe as the somewhat ‘fluid’ approach to child safety of my own golden years.
In order to get her as far as daycare, she gets strapped into a car seat that has been approved and cleared by more organisations than a White House visitor. Whereas I distinctly remember being driven all the way from the wilds of bandit country in North Cork to the seaside at Ballybunion whilst lying across the rear window of a - possibly criminally - overcrowded Ford Fiesta.
Television, and its influence on children is a staple topic for every amateur debating team to cut its teeth on. Whether its depictions of sexuality and violence, appropriate or otherwise, shape young minds for better or worse is neither here nor there as far as I’m concerned. Television influenced me in ways that it will never impact my daughter. The television schedule was the skeleton of my day.
She is going to grow up in a world where television is simply on demand. TV show DVD box sets, downloads, Sky plus services, and genre specific 24 hour channels mean she will most likely never have wait for something she wants to entertain or inform. The border between her afternoon and evenings play will never be defined by before and after ‘Neighbours’, the theme tune to ‘Minder’ will never signal her bedtime on a Thursday night, and the music to ‘Where in the world’ will never send her into the relative depression that is the realisation that the weekend is over and there’s homework still to be done.
She’ll probably never experience the phenomenon that is a street suddenly deserted of children that have all ‘gone in’ for ‘Home & Away’ and it’s highly unlikely that she’ll ever have to sit through six o’clock bong-bong-bongs when she wants to see what’s happening at home or abroad.
Along with her peers, she will undoubtedly benefit from the changes that creep into our lives with every passing day, but I can’t help but think she will somehow be worse off having been deprived of some of the obscure delights that defined our childhoods in the eighties.
So maybe we didn’t have to milk a dozen cows before traipsing barefoot over the fields to the nearest hedge school 8 miles away, braving snow drifts and dodging Cromwellian forces en route. What we did have were the unique experiences of entire summers wondering ‘who shot JR?’, the novelty of having our snotty noses hidden by ‘photography advice’ stickers, and an approach to safety that straddled the line between willful neglect and an Indiana Jones-like freedom.
This realisation that she will won’t experience a time like that makes wonder one thing; would anyone be willing to give a toddler a perm?
'The 80s and now...' was originally published by Dad.ie in May 2011.