Falling into the app trap

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am


My husband and I caved in recently and bought our younger daughter an iPad for her 10th birthday. That's in addition to her laptop (which I bought her at the age of eight, when her older sister needed to have one for school) and an iPod touch, which she hardly uses now. But what did I expect when she now has her own iPad?

Our willingness to give her technology from an early age has advanced her spelling and writing skills, although she was always one to walk around with a pencil and notebook in hand, and this hasn't changed much, either. She loves to write, but the bonus is that our actions have also made her our resident 'geekgirl'. Whenever any of us has an issue with our technology, she is the go-to person. More often than not, she solves the problem and gains our grateful admiration. Overall, this has been a real benefit, but her early foray into cyberspace has also resulted in an introduction to what can only be described as the 'app trap'.

My first experience with an application was innocent enough, on my new iPhone a year or so ago. I was familiarising myself with my new gadget and came across the cyber-equivalent of Putonghua flash cards, with an audio feature. I couldn't resist. It was a lexical set (colours) and, most importantly, it was a free download. After playing it with my daughter for a bit, I was hooked. I decided to set up an Apple account, and I then bought an app about food items.

Later, I encouraged my younger daughter to find an app that would advance her spelling. She soon found another free download, for a cyber-version of the game Boggle. I especially liked that one. It helped me through a nerve-racking wait at the orthopaedic surgeon's office, as geekgirl and I waited to see if her arm had been broken in the closing seconds of a beach rugby tournament (it was). We competed during the wait and soon exhausted the free version. I promptly bought the extended version for US$1.99. And so it went ...

Apps are cheap, and now my youngest asks if she may buy one on a regular basis. She needs my approval at all times for any app purchase, and I am now aware that the world of apps is filled with as much mindless fluff as it is with useful educational items.

Before you think I am totally spineless, I want you to know that I do make her pay me back for them. We have a standing rule in our home: parents provide food, clothing, shelter and love without too much back and forth. I will also buy any book they want, with justification (but not books about vampires or wizards). But they must buy their own 'frivolous' entertainment. They know the meaning of that word, and also that, in our home, frivolity is allowed, even welcomed, in moderation.

I don't say yes all the time, but when my younger daughter asked if she could buy a face-ageing app for US$2.99 last month, my curiosity got the better of me. We all had a go. I looked the worst, of course. My children still had youthful, shining eyes. Then someone in the family suggested we see how Balto, my younger daughter's stuffed dog, would look in the year 2026. It was funny; we had a good laugh. Then my elder daughter tried out the app on her stuffed pet, Sam. More laughs. Daddy suggested a golf ball. We were rolling on the floor with laughter even before we gave it a try. I have to admit apps are, at 99 US cents (and up), cheap entertainment and good family fun.

We are now the proud owners of an app that will play back what you've just said as if you were sucking on helium, and my husband also loves to make us laugh with a beer-drinking app - a glugging sound, punctuated by a loud belch.

We are standing at the top of a slippery slope.

Karmel Schreyer is a freelance writer and mother of two girls