“Hi, we’re the Hulford Quads. We’re in 8th grade. Technology is the only thing that entertains us.” So begins Microsoft’s now ubiquitous commercial for its new tablet. The four adolescent girls, who seem lovely and sweet, tell you about all the features of the new device. But parents should listen closely to the message they offer before running out to buy one for their own kids.
It is depressing enough that these girls reached the point where it is hard to get their attention with anything besides technology. But this short commercial also contains a lot of other useful and perhaps worrisome information about the way kids view their devices. One of the Hulford girls says that the technology permits them a certain kind of privacy—she says she likes that it needs her fingerprint in order to gain access. How much privacy you actually have online is an open question and teenagers tend to overestimate how much of what they do with technology is visible to their friends and to the outside world.
Then, one of the girls says that the tablet “kind of makes you feel like you’re your own person—which is a rare opportunity in my family.” There’s no reason to take the script for the commercial too seriously, but technology is actually one of the things that makes us less different from other people. Indeed, the girls seem to be using the device for creating artwork and manipulating photographs, but the truth is that according to studies by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, for instance, a generation raised on technology seems to produce more derivative pictures and stories than previous generations.
The Hulford quadruplets actually came to the public view fourteen years ago because they were born from a single egg—something that’s exceedingly rare. When they turned one, their father told an interviewer that life was getting “back to normal.” They didn’t need to be held all the time. “Plus they have each other, too.” Indeed, even in the commercial, one senses that there is something else that entertains them besides technology—family.