Tag Archives: Regulation

Banning Technology From Children

It seems there’s always a new mobile device, game console, or movie that catches our children’s interest, because they live in the same world we do and we love it! There is increasingly more and more technology piling up all around us. Parents have always worried that their children spend too much time using technology and not enough time exploring the world away from the screens. When I was a boy (cue to rocking chair, beard stroking, and glassy eyed reminisce of the 90’s) my screen-based entertainment options were television and Nintendo. And big screen movies, of course. My parent’s only option was probably the television, but they had the moon landing. So outdoors was more attractive. Now technology is available on such screens that leave television in the dust. Little screens, big screens, touch screens. Screens as big as your head! If the kids are looking at too many screens, should we ban them?

The Huffington Post recently published 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12. Pediatric occupational therapist, Cris Rowan advocates adherence to published guidelines for technology usage by children and calls on, “parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devises for children under the age of 12 years.” She then lists ten reasons technology is bad for children. Sounds great, and I agree with all of them. Unfortunately, a few unconsidered lines about the responsibility of government to ban something best regulated elsewhere, ruins the heart of the message.

I don’t know the intentions of the author, but it’s possible that the points I rail on here were simply afterthoughts. But they were written, and even in the title. She presents good research on why children should spend less time in front of screens, but then leaves the door open a crack for legislation enthusiasts to start sharpening their pencils. I know I’m reading into what is really a minor angle of the article, but my point is to remember our own responsibility before we start advocating outright bans which negate individual decision making.

A better title would not have begun with the numerical “10” or used the word “Banned.” That reads like check-out line trash. “Coerce your Community in 10 Easy Steps by Imposing Your Values on Them.” As this certainly is not an article about governments or bans, the title is misleading in calling for a “ban” at all. Is the author actually advocating legislation that would make it illegal for people of a certain age to use handheld devices? Not in this article, no. So why say so? Words have meaning, so be careful. What happens in your own house is a rule, not a ban.

The author identifies three distinct groups as the audience for her 10 Reasons, thus indicating that all three share some responsibility on guiding the use of these devices. However, in calling on “parents, teachers and governments,” she is calling on too many people. The government is assumed to be an acceptable authority, casually grouped with parents and teachers.

If the government is any given authority to ban the use of something, then it doesn’t really matter what the parents or the teachers think, so you can’t include them all. And, if the parents are directing the activity of their own children at home, and the teachers are directing the activities of the enrolled students at school – what and where is the government’s place in influence the activities of children?

Not every child is affected equally by their use of technology (gasp!), nor by anything at all. Most importantly, not every child is playing the same games or using the same apps. “Technology” is a really, really big blanket, the four corners of which are not even hinted at in this article. The difference between an action packed racing/shooting/blow ’em up adventure game and a counting/spelling/learn to sing and compose your own music iPad app is measured by the parsec. Case in point: YOU don’t know what a parsec is, do you? You have NO IDEA. Admit it. Something to do with space and distance. Maybe Star Trek. And since you don’t know, your kid won’t know either – since it could be illegal to use a hand held device to look it up.

Click here for more info on parsecs. Must be 12 or older to learn!

My son is three years old and doesn’t play any games involving fast cars, ninjas, or tanks. But he loves his occasional shows and educational games and embraces his limited and supervised time interacting with the computer and iPad. He is learning to spell and count. He gives a monster a hair cut and makes a make-believe sandwich, which he then shares with me. I tried to teach him some basic addition but he wasn’t paying attention, since he is just three and I was just using words. Since I don’t like math I couldn’t make it appealing and was I probably frowning too much.  (Grrr…math). But after some time with a mathematics app involving little animals and lots of bubbles, he recently informed me that 2 and 2 is 4. He preferred to learn it his way.

My son also loves singing and playing music. He has a guitar, and a ukulele, and a harmonica. He is very loud, but he’s also very talented. I don’t love playing music. I don’t have any musical skills at all, but I sing with him anyway and he doesn’t know enough to run away – yet. He’ll only get so far with me as a music teacher, but there’s an app for that. It teaches him how to compose his own music.

If you want to be like these guys, go for it. This family banned all technology invented after 1986. That means Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is Ok, but “Bad” is a no-go in the world of arbitrary dates. They didn’t like the way technology had taken over their lives, so they did something about. Whatever their reasons, that family probably experienced most of the 10 Reasons stated in Rowan’s article and they acted accordingly, for themselves. The danger in suggesting that the government should do the same for all of us, even if presented casually and well intentioned, could rob many children of valid life enriching opportunities. So steer clear of bans!

Spare Room Hotel

The virtual hotel Airbnb is a website that lists rooms for rent all over the world. You can rent out your room to a stranger for a couple nights to make some cash. If you like meeting new people and you don’t have personal space issues, you can find a similar setup during your own travels.

However, the state of New York Attorney General is trying to shut down short-term room rentals because some are upset at the lost hotel tax revenue which cannot be collected from these low-cost and low-ammenity “hotel rooms.” But the city of Portland, Oregon is taking a different approach. Rather than strike down the movement to save the status quo, they would set up a framework to support the new “shared economy,” essentially creating a path to legality for the creative businesses that already exist.

The Oregonian reports that the city is looking to establish appropriate taxes and permitting requirements to allow homeowner occupied residences to operate as part-time hotels on the real market rather than a black market.

Most of the angst in New York and elsewhere seems to be with the short-term rental of apartments rather than single family homes, or with those who rent rooms in houses where they do not themselves live. Rules against subletting are fairly common for any kind of rental and homeowners associations and property management companies frequently decide for themselves that they don’t want to participate in this sort of thing.

But any homeowner should have the right to invite whomever he wishes into his own home, even to stay awhile – and why not charge those who are willing to pay? Yes, I know we have the neighbors to consider, so I’m not about to suppose a regulatory desert. But New York is going about it all wrong. Their opposition to sharing is driving up costs and challenging innovation.

Portland, with it’s increasing love for really tiny living spaces, has shown that it also has an affinity for really tiny hotels, (and really tiny food carts). If your spare room is just collecting dust, start collecting dollars instead.

USPS: Postal Delivery Fail

This week the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced that they will discontinue most Saturday mail delivery in an effort to save their sinking ship. They will continue to deliver packages, however, and keep the early afternoon oil burning at your local post office six days a week. Some fans are overly distraught at the prospects of receiving less junk mail.

Though the USPS is not fully a government organization, it is the Federal Government’s  fault that they can no longer deliver the mail “rain or shine,” with a fixed commitment to deliver to every address, every day. With well over half a million workers, only the Federal Government itself and Walmart employ more people. Thousands of post office branches process billions of pieces of mail every day. They are really, really big and they don’t do their job very well.

The organization is billions of dollars behind budget, whereas competitors UPS and FedEx make healthy profits. But competitors are limited, as first class mail is protected by legal monopoly and private companies are not allowed to compete. Essentially, they are forced to charge higher prices to deliver the same package, in the same amount of time, to your door rather than your mailbox. Luckily they do a pretty good job.

Major problems with the government run system include a requirement to deliver to every address six days a week for the same cost, the pre-funding of health care benefits for employees, and the ability of Congress to change rates. What does Congress know about the cost to ship a package from Portland to Oregon City? And shouldn’t it be cheaper than Portland to New York City?

How can we save the USPS? With this be the downfall of America?

If the USPS is America, we have a problem. Who cares if they collapse? Cut loose the binds that tie the competition and let the moaning beast sink. There are plenty of capable organizations who will successfully compete to deliver the mail if the legal obstacles are removed. And those obstacles must be removed or we really do have a problem. If the Postal Service can figure out a way to come up breathing without tax money or legal training wheels, good for them – they can compete with equal opportunity for my business.

But sometimes failure just needs to fail. 

Congress is understandably outraged at this insubordination. How dare they act without approval! Don’t they know prudent trimming of withered branches is frowned upon?

Portland’s Plastic Bag Ban

The Portland City Council, led by outgoing Mayor Sam Adams, recently increased its regulation on the use of plastic bags within city limits. Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea, as we’ll now have to head north to Vancouver Washington if we want to keep a plastic bag full of marijuana on our door knob (now legal!). The original plastic bag ban in Portland was established in 2011 and only targeted the largest retail stores. Now all stores, regardless of size, as well as all restaurants and farmers markets have been given notice. The full scope of the intended regulation goes into effect October 2013.

Today the Oregonian reported that state legislators are seeking to push for a statewide ban on the bag. While some cities with similar bans require a fee to use paper bags, Portland graciously allows stores to choose whether or not to implement a fee on paper bag usage. Other stores offer a discount for bringing in your own reusable bag. The proposed state-wide legislation would, “require retailers to charge 5 cents for a paper bag.” (A bag tax).

Portlanders will be using fewer plastic bags than in years past, and this is a good thing. We need to reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources, and we need to see less plastic blowing down our streets. Paper is a better alternative to plastic. We can grow more trees, but plastic bags can be difficult to recycle.

But how might we relieve ourselves of plastic bag waste without government regulation of private business practices?

Would individuals choose to the use paper or cloth bags rather than plastic, if given the choice? Many do it every day with the choice as it stands. I propose that the burden be shared between the stores and the consumers, and the government should stay out of it. Many stores offer reusable bags for sale at a reasonable price, but continue to offer plastic bags as the default option. People use them because they are available and they’re cheap.

These are individual choices that we all need to make. We should allow space in civil society for positive choices made by individuals rather than government mandates on consumer purchases. Businesses can choose to charge for bags without being forced. Shoppers can choose to bring a bag or use paper.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman believes “Portlanders will rise to the challenge.” I say, “What challenge? There is no choice!”

Encourage alternatives and educate! Why should I care what type of bag I use if it doesn’t matter because the choice was already made by the government? We’re not making decisions to meet a challenge if there is no choice. Some think their neighbors are too dumb to make the right decision themselves, and so they must be forced to fall in line. Have we tried hard enough at the friendly art of persuasion? Can we provide another incentive to stop using plastic bags besides the force of law? Some people are simply unaware and ignorant, and would make a wiser choice if they had more information. By taking away the power of choice, government is perpetuating ignorance.

At least the plastic bag ban craze is happening at the local and state level. Check out this map. The last thing we need is a federal law which regulates how I transport my six-pack of Oregon micro-brew from the corner store to my home.