Breakfast of Algorithms

Hi Folks! Here’s my piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. It’s not straight-on Free-Range, just a little slice of life. I hope this link works! (If not, maybe this one?) Anyway, the piece begins:

A Hearty Breakfast of Google and YouTube

by Lenore Skenazy

This is a tale of two breakfasts.

Breakfast when I was 15, staring at the back of a cereal box: “Hey kids! Help the Cap’n find his way home!”

Breakfast this morning with my son, 15: “Hey mom! Let me show you this commercial I saw during the game!”

He hops online, searches YouTube for a good 10th of a second, and immediately we are watching a very clever commercial for (sigh) PlayStation 4. It features two young men singing Lou Reed’s sweet, dark song, “Perfect Day,” while smiting each other in a ridiculously violent videogame.

I love it. One of Reed’s lyrics, “You keep me hanging on,” reminds me of the Supremes song with that refrain, so it is my turn to search YouTube to play my son a clip of them.

He (being 15) has never seen the Supremes. He likes the song. It reminds him—God knows how—of an Eminem song, so we watch a clip of that, in which Eminem samples Aerosmith. Which reminds me of an article I read in the other day in the Jewish newspaper the Forward about how Aerosmith came up with its hit “Walk This Way.” I Google it and —

So on! Maybe you “Eat This Way” too! – L.


Eat this way!

Good morning!


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29 Responses to Breakfast of Algorithms

  1. BL January 9, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    Most people have enough sense not to go out in a thunderstorm, but Ben Franklin just had to go out with that damn kite and start all this elecricity stuff. And look where it’s led. Eminem.

  2. Linda Wightman January 9, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    One of my favorite quotes, by Dean Inge: “There are two kinds of fools: one says, ‘This is old, therefore it is good’; the other says, ‘This is new, therefore it is better.'”

    I love, love, love all the information available at my fingertips: I’m an inveterate looker-upper, and when I think I used to have to go to the library for everything…! The Internet is changing our minds, certainly, and it’s for the better and for the worse. Check out this Wired article by Nicholas Carr.

  3. lollipoplover January 9, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    If not for YouTube, my kids may never have learned what the fox says.

  4. Jenny Islander January 9, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    Electronics at the breakfast table? Oh heck no. My daughter keeps trying to play Angry Birds while eating her cereal and I keep shutting her down.

  5. Jenny Islander January 9, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    Electronics at the breakfast table? Oh heck no. My daughter keeps trying to play Angry Birds while eating her cereal and I keep shutting her down. That stuff is too expensive to get milk on it!

  6. Emily January 9, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    @Jenny Islander–Using electronics at the breakfast table isn’t really that much different from reading the newspaper at the breakfast table. I don’t think breakfast is as much of a “sit down and socialize with your family” meal as dinner is. I mean, think about it–what would you talk about at breakfast? Presumably, you just got up. I suppose you could talk about what you plan to do that day, but mornings are often rushed, so for most people, discussing plans for the day would take a back seat to getting ready to start the day.

    As for the Playstation commercial, why couldn’t they have done the same song, with non-violent games? They could have gotten the same message across, about the enhanced graphics, sound, and overall “fun value” of the new game system, if they’d shown people playing, say, a hockey or snowboarding game, or a car racing game that doesn’t involve deliberate crashes and explosions. Those are the kinds of games that appeal to kids of all ages, of both genders, and that most parents don’t have a problem buying.

  7. marie January 9, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    I love it, Lenore. My kids and I do this, too. Now that they can listen to music with earbuds/headphones without ever letting me in on what they are hearing, I enjoy the “have you seen/heard this?” exchanges. It lets me know what they are into…and exactly which bad words are current. All of them.

  8. Linda Wightman January 9, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    Emily — one HUGE different between using electronics at the breakfast table and reading the newspaper: replacement cost.

  9. Papilio January 9, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    Since I’ve basically absorbed my parents’ taste for music (and am therefore sometimes jealous of people who were actually around in the 60’s and 70’s – decent music on the radio ALL DAY, EVERYWHERE!), I don’t have these exchanges with them. My brother however does live in the now music-wise, and when he was around 15, I remember him being all enthusiastic about this new Dutch rap song and he even put his headphone on my head to ‘show’ me, and lo and behold, it was actually quite enjoyable for rap 🙂
    So I do recognize this joy of sharing, sort of.

    One question though: did he still make it to school on time? 😀

  10. Emily January 9, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    @Linda Wightman–Okay, electronics are expensive to replace, and newspapers are meant to be recycled, but that’s why most people are inherently more careful with electronics than they are with sturdier or more disposable items. In most households, kids aren’t given smartphones, tablets, laptops, musical instruments, and other big-ticket, fragile items, until they’ve demonstrated that they can take care of less-expensive belongings, such as clothing, toys, and books. I thought that Jenny’s objection to her daughter playing Angry Birds at breakfast was from more of a “social interaction” angle than a “potential breakage” angle, and so, to that, I have to say that I don’t think a person playing Angry Birds at breakfast at home, is much different from someone playing Angry Birds at Starbucks. Breakfast at home is often one of those times when the members of the family are in the same room at the same time, but not necessarily interacting with each other, because they’re either still sleepy, or they’re in a hurry to get out the door to work and school.

  11. Andy January 9, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    @Emily My objection on playing angry birds during breakfast is that is not polite behavior. I would not mind it when the kid eats alone (if the kid is able to keep the screen clean), I do mint it when we eat together.

    I would mind reading newspapers too.

    We eat breakfast together and interact normally during that time – the same way as during dinner. Whoever is in hurry really should not play angry birds anyway.

    On the other hand, I do not mind people playing Angry Birds at Starbucks :), unless they are there to socialize with people that mind that.

  12. Emily January 9, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    @Andy–YMMV, but breakfast has rarely been a “social” meal in my family–it was when my brother and I were little, but the only time we ever eat breakfast together now is if it’s a major holiday, like Christmas. As for the “being in a hurry” thing, you’re right; someone who’s in a hurry shouldn’t be playing Angry Birds, but someone who’s still half-asleep, and isn’t quite awake enough for social interaction, might well use Angry Birds to transition from “sleep mode” to “social mode.” As for the newspapers at the breakfast table, I guess I was just raised differently. In my house, newspapers and breakfast go together like peanut butter and jam.

  13. Emily January 9, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    P.S., Not only was it NOT rude to read at the table during meals, my brother and I were often chastised for disturbing our parents while they read at the table during meals. I’m not bitter about it either; it taught us that the world didn’t revolve around us, and that our parents had outside interests.

  14. Papilio January 9, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    “In most households, kids aren’t given (…), until they’ve demonstrated that they can take care of less-expensive belongings, such as clothing (…)”

    I had a conversation about that not too long ago. While I admit I didn’t have any of the expensive items you mentioned and I do see your point about responsibility, I also never cared about what I was wearing before I was, maybe, 15 or so. As in, not wanting to ruin my clothes.
    And I realized I was glad that I didn’t care and even miss that sometimes, because if I’d had to look down and consider my clothes every time I wanted to climb a tree, get into some bushes, go inside a bunker (at last, one fun artefact of WOII) or climb on top of one, or other ‘chances’ to get grass stains on my knees or whatever, I would have missed SO MUCH in my childhood!

  15. lollipoplover January 9, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    For the end of the year music show at school last year, my 10 yo daughter couldn’t wait to sing me the awesome song called “Vacation”. She swore it wasn’t an oldie but by a
    new group, the Go Go’s.
    Uggh. Flashbacks of the 80’s when I listened to this cassette on my Sony Walkman. I sat her down and youtubed the Go Go’s video of big hair, heavy makeup, and fake waterskiing while wearing tiaras. Sheer awesomeness.

  16. Kenny Felder January 9, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    So you don’t give any credence to the idea that the internet fosters superficial skimming as opposed to deep reading, or shortens the attention spans of its habitual users?

  17. Emily January 9, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    @Papilio–How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking? I’m 29, and I didn’t have a laptop, tablet, or smartphone during my youth, because, for the most part, I grew up before these things were widely available. I got my first “dumb” phone (the first of many) for my 20th birthday, my first laptop the Christmas I was 21, and my first smartphone (Android) this past Christmas. However, I did have a CD boom box in my early teens, and a Discman later on, and a TV in my room starting in grade ten, and a VCR about a year after that, until it broke, and I subsequently replaced it with a DVD player, which died years ago, because it was a cheap one. The boom box was a Christmas gift, I went through a few Discmans (some gifts, some purchased myself), the TV was also a gift, and I bought the VCR and the DVD player myself. I wasn’t allowed a TV in my room until proved myself able to take care of my things, and I still have it, and it still works. The same applied to other “big-ticket” possessions of mine–I had to first prove that I could care for my own belongings, and those borrowed from others (e.g., library books, and the school-issued clarinet I played before I got my own). I also had to prove I could take on simple responsibilities around the house, like cleaning up after myself, and taking out the garbage and feeding or walking the dog when it was my turn. For my parents, the coveted “rite of passage” item might have been a transistor radio or something of that ilk. So, to make a long-winded point, wouldn’t most parents nowadays hold off on buying their kid a smartphone or Android phone, until they’re reasonably sure that said kid WON’T drop it in cereal?

    As for not ruining clothing, I didn’t mean that kids should never be able to climb trees, or ride bikes or play soccer after a rainstorm when there might be some muddiness; I really just meant common sense things, like not jumping in puddles while decked out in your fancy birthday party or piano recital outfit. The flip side of that is, parents shouldn’t require their kids to look perfect at all times, like Captain Von Trapp and his seven kids in identical “uniforms” that had to be kept pristine, which prevented the kids from engaging in normal childhood play. I guess, to make an even more long-winded point, the message here is, “Rip your jeans or track pants sliding into home; we’ll wash them, and I’ll show you how to mend them afterwards, but don’t you dare play baseball in your Easter dress.” The other side of that flip side is, if your child clearly demonstrates that she’s not an “Easter dress” kind of person, don’t buy her one. Dress pants and a nice shirt are just as good.

  18. Owen Allen January 10, 2014 at 12:33 am #

    Wonderful conversation in the digital age. Bespeaks 🙂 of that awkward moment we find ourselves, wondering how to move from ye old education system in classrooms to the new one that works wherever you are in the world. Recently on a webinaire in Cairns, Australia. Facilitator in San Fransisco, two participants somewhere in an ocean on a yacht.

  19. anonymous this time January 10, 2014 at 1:50 am #

    My 12-year-old and I sometimes bond over Youtube, but I do find myself shuddering a bit at some of the stuff he digs up there.

  20. Andy January 10, 2014 at 4:22 am #

    @Emily Heh 🙂 I guess your parents would have no right to complain if you would use smartphone during breakfast.

    My parents had also different approach to devices. I had way less of them then you, but there were no special behavioral condition on getting them. The decision what to buy depended mostly on price and if it got broke, my bad. If it was there implicitly, they never told me.

    I destroyed a lot of clothes and toys in my childhood and my parents tolerated it well :). I did not get replacement of course.

    I do not mind buying electronic device for young kid as long as it is has the same price as I would spend on traditional toys. However, it would me who decides what app goes there. I do not want my kid to play angry birds too much and I do not want them to be victim of some of those free-to-play money suckers out there.

    But, I do not mind my kid to finger draw on cheap smartphone, play music on on-screen piano, create videos on it or do anything else creative.

  21. pentamom January 10, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    ” In most households, kids aren’t given smartphones, tablets, laptops, musical instruments, and other big-ticket, fragile items, until they’ve demonstrated that they can take care of less-expensive belongings, such as clothing, toys, and books.”

    You wish. I also saw your comment below about your own experience, but I think it suffers from two problems as a generalization:

    1. It’s a generalization, and from other things you’ve posted, your parents sound as though they were sensible, if anything, leaning toward the protective side. That definitely doesn’t generalize well.

    2. Your personal experience re: young kids being given fragile, expensive stuff is 20 years old. I can say I’ve definitely seen changes in this area in the last 20-30 years. Probably even the last 10-15. The MP3 player was the first high-priced thing I remember that was handed out to fairly young kids by non-super-indulgent parents. Now we have smartphones, tablets, etc. Of course not all parents do this with kids who may not be ready to handle them, but I think more do than used to. Even among my own circle of friends, there are a number who, for example, let their toddlers play with their smartphones. It blows my mind: I remember the days when a lot of parents didn’t allow their kids even to touch something easily damaged and costly to replace that didn’t belong to them, even if they might have been old enough to be reasonably trustworthy.

  22. SOA January 10, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    That is a cute story. My father and I actually used to have the same discussions. He was a disco DJ and so I would come in and tell him about this great new song and he would run and pull out the original song that the new song sampled from. So I don’t think that has changed since the 80s and 90s.

  23. Emily January 10, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    @Andy–Good question. Surprisingly, there was a bit of a double standard with that. Reading newspapers and books at the table was permitted (at regular meals without guests, and outside of major holidays), but Game Boy use at the table was not permitted. That’s the closest equivalent to playing Angry Birds on a smartphone that I can think of. Oh, and if it matters, my brother and I saved up and purchased our Game Boys with our allowance.

    @Pentamom–My parents were overprotective, but they also didn’t believe in spoiling us, or buying us things that we’d just destroy. As for MP3 players, well, you can get an iPod Shuffle or a generic-branded MP3 player fairly cheaply these days, so saying that non-indulgent parents buy their kids MP3 players, doesn’t necessarily seem unreasonable. Also, some of these MP3 players are fairly sturdy; especially if you buy a protective case and screen protector for them. I’ve had two iPod Nanos; one that died after three years, and one that’s still going strong, and I’ve dropped them before with no ill effect. Back when I was a kid, dropping a Walkman or a Discman on the ground would likely break it.

  24. Donna January 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    “Even among my own circle of friends, there are a number who, for example, let their toddlers play with their smartphones”

    Letting toddlers play with smartphones and letting toddlers play with smartphones while eating cereal are two completely different things (although I know parents crazy enough to do the latter too). I’d let a toddler play with my phone. The kid can probably work it better than me. I would not let him/her do so while doing something involving liquids since they seem to rarely keep all of said liquid in the vessel holding it.

    But then again, maybe I shouldn’t be trusted with a smartphone either. I dropped my ipod in a cup of water this afternoon. Luckily, the water was mostly gone so it just hit ice, but still ….

  25. Emily January 10, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

    @Donna–Does your phone still work? If not, try putting it in rice for a few days.

  26. Papilio January 10, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    Wow, Emily… Did you miss the point where I said I DO understand your point? 😀
    I just wanted to say that maybe clothes – normal, regular clothes, not expensive Christmas dresses etc – shouldn’t be considered one of the things that kids need to keep pristine in order to ever get something expensive.
    I did have a radio. If I remember correctly, the cd player broke and then I gave it away to someone who just wanted a radio and didn’t care about the cd player.
    Oh, and I got an expensive watch when I turned 16 (which is not a special birthday like you have sweet sixteen). Still have it.

    (And whats gong on wit my keyboard – or rather this blog a I don’t see it in Word as wel: it keeps skipping letters, even though IDO type them! I constantly find myself adding letters inwords – and spaces between them – Ityped earlier. Are there moe people with that probem?)

  27. BL January 12, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    “it keeps skipping letters, even though IDO type them!”

    I get that all the time in the youtube search line, for some reason.

  28. Emily January 12, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    >>I just wanted to say that maybe clothes – normal, regular clothes, not expensive Christmas dresses etc – shouldn’t be considered one of the things that kids need to keep pristine in order to ever get something expensive.<<

    Yeah, that's what I was saying too. Also, if your (general you) child has a habit of deliberately (or, accidentally-on-purpose) destroying frilly dresses, there's a good chance that she's doing it because she hates them.