published Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Kennedy: Don’t sneeze while using FaceTime

I can't keep up with technology.

Just the other day, my 10-year-old son was talking to a friend on the telephone -- only he wasn't using a telephone. He was using something called an iPod Touch, and his friend's smiling face was right there on the little display screen.

I'm told this is something called FaceTime, which is a little piece of high-tech magic that somebody forgot to tell me about. When I was a kid, we were still tying bean cans together with kite string.

I've been waiting for picture phones to arrive since 1963, when I saw George Jetson getting blessed out on a space phone by his boss at Spacely Space Sprockets.

You'd think I'd have read a headline about this FaceTime thing in The New York Times instead of having to pick up my jaw when my son walked through the living room taking into an iPod 6 inches away from his nose. (He was bumping into furniture as he walked, by the way, which resulted in a major deduction of style points.)

Still, I was impressed with his mastery of this gadgetry until he asked me a few days later: "Dad, I don't feel so good. Can you catch a cold from somebody on FaceTime?"

"I'm going to assume that you're joking and not answer that," I said, wondering what kind of twisted logic had allowed him to imagine a Wi-Fi sneeze.

Every new technology requires a learning curve. The other day I was trying to figure out the navigation system on my wife's recently purchased used car, when I took a wrong turn on I-24 with the whole family in tow.

Somehow the exit dumped us out on south Broad Street directly in front of a little cinder-block building with a big neon sign that read: "Books. Videos. Toys."

Adults, use your imaginations. Children, you may stop reading now and go play with FaceTime.

In the car, I said a quick prayer, but it wasn't quick enough.

"Daddy, can we stop at that store?" asked my 5-year-old son.

"Yeah, we like books, videos and toys," chimed in my 10-year-old son.

Why do we teach children to read? It just causes problems.

My wife and sister, who were also in the car, thought this would be an ideal time to break out into convulsive laughter, leaving me to deal with the boys' questions alone. As Ricky Ricardo used to say: Daddy had some "splainin' " to do.

Y'all, I couldn't even think of a good lie, so I tried to change the subject.

"Who wants to get a Slushy at the Kangaroo store?" I asked hopefully.

"Not me. I want to go to the toy store," my 5-year-old insisted.

"Yeah, why can't we go to the toy store?" chimed in my 10-year-old.

After about five more minutes of tortured conversation, the boys finally gave up and moved on to some other form of backseat begging.

Here's the piece of personal technology I want: A motorized, soundproof, Plexiglas wall that separates the front seat from the back seat in all family vehicles.

If somebody -- son, sister, wife -- wants to talk to me they can go old school and hold up a sign.

Then, after some careful contemplation, I get to decide who gets face time and who doesn't.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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