A Google search for the words "family" and "technology" returns the following disconcerting headlines: "Is technology fracturing your family?" from Psychology Today; "Is technology tearing apart family life?" from Laptopmag.com; "Has technology cut into your family time?" from Business Week; and last but not least, "Modern Technology Destroying Family As We Know It" from Gawker.
It doesn't look good, parents. But never fear. Just because media headlines make it seem like technology will rip your family apart, we still think there are a few gadgets out there that just might -- dare we say it -- not destroy your family harmony. Here are five family gadget favorites.
It seems the iPad can do pretty much anything, including entertain you and your kids simultaneously. Sure, there are some apps that only kids will enjoy, like Bubble popper. But the following titles are fun for the whole family:
- Angry Birds: Yes, the craze that's swept the nation is as fun for you as it is for them. There's just something about slinging indignant avians in hope of annihilating their porcine foes that crosses generations.
- Oregon Trail: If this doesn't light the fire of nostalgia, then you may be beyond the reach of technology-assisted fun. Pack your wagon and set out for the West -- and don't forget to eat and sleep on the way, or you may end up as bones along the side of the trail!
- Scrabble: You're never too young or too old to enjoy this classic. OK, maybe you can be too young -- a smart kindergartner is probably the cutoff point. Still, app-ing the classic means you'll never again spill a bag of tiles on an airplane.
- Sky Safari: This is an app that bridges from the e-world to the real world. Start inside, and then take it outside on a dark, cloudless night to make the sky come alive.
- Sit or Squat: Again, this app solves a dilemma that's plagued mankind since cavemen first decided that caves weren't the place for, well, you know. Basically, it answers the question, "Where's the nearest bathroom?"
This article certainly isn't the first to point out that the Wii takes gaming from a solitary endeavor in a kid's bedroom to a collective enterprise in the living room. Case in point: A game like Wii Sports Boxing allows the whole family to punch each other without the unsettling result of facial disfigurement!
Wii even teamed up with Hasbro to offer a package that brings back family game night. Included are all your favorites, like Connect Four, Boggle, Yahtzee and Battleship. Or, if your budding gamer isn't getting enough exercise, consider Wii's active games including (ironically) Outdoor Challenge, which comes with a floor mat and will have your whole family sweating like lumberjacks.
Finally, in the ultimate tribute to trans-generational geekery, you and yours can match swords in Wii's Clone Wars Lightsaber duels.
3: GPS Tracking System
When your kids are still small, family tracking software offers you the peace of mind that comes with knowing where your little ones are 24/7. When your kids are teens, GPS tracking systems allow you to spy. But Big Brother inferences aside, systems like Zoombak, Life360, and PocketFinder really do come in handy because they enable you to find your children and your children to find you in places like parking lots, ski slopes, your neighborhood and the shopping mall. That is, as long as everyone is carrying a GPS locator device or a phone equipped with the GPS. (Visit How GPS Receivers Work for more information on the technology.)
Adults can use GPS to find their cars in the airport parking lot or to keep track of a wandering dog or cat. Kids can use a GPS family tracking system for a game that's halfway between geocaching and hide and seek: Tag objects, hide them and use the GPS screen to track them down.
2: Smartphone With Video
In April 2011, The New York Times reported that the once-popular Flip video cameras were stopping the production lines. Cisco Systems sold 2 million units in 2007 and 2008, but by 2011, the device was already obsolete.
The culprit? The smartphone. The appeal of the Flip was that you could take it with you anywhere, and now smartphones -- which you already have with you everywhere -- almost universally come equipped with the ability to shoot video.
This is cool enough in itself: You can capture your kids' precious moments, and they can shoot and post to Facebook video of you snoring like a bear at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning. But add a computer of nearly any sort to the mix and you have the power to write, shoot and edit home movies, be they the documentary account of a family vacation or your kids' wildest zombie thrillers.
Use either your computer's pre-installed video editing software or consider trying a free editing software like AVS Video Editor or Window's Movie Maker, both of which are intuitive enough for use by most 9-year-old's (if not by their parents).
The preceding tips will make your family life easier and more entertaining, but this final tip will make it awesome. Who doesn't like robots?
For example, the 64 distinct commands that control WowWee's Robosapien ($70 to $100) allow it to grip and throw things. Or, if you or yours need a friend, consider Mr. Personality ($245), created by the same company, which interacts depending on the personalities you've downloaded (telling jokes, telling fortunes). Also from WowWee is the Rovio, a video camera on wheels that you can drive from an Internet interface. (Your kids thought they were home alone?) Or, you can control the Desk Pet Tankbot ($25) with your smartphone or iPad.
Technically, this last robot supports only up to 60 pounds (27.2 kilograms), so it's distinctly for the smaller members of your family. But who doesn't love a 2.5-foot (30-inch) baby triceratops walking around the living room? It's a little pricey, at $800, but Playskool's Kota My Triceratops Dinosaur responds to voice commands, kind of like a real-life dog.
Lots More Information
- 10 Best Web Sites to Save You Money
- 5 Fun Shopping Games for Kids
- Is it safe to buy things from Amazon?
- Are prepaid cell phones the best option for kids?
- Lam, Brian. "The best gadgets." Gizmodo. June 21, 2010. (Nov. 18, 2011) http://gizmodo.com/5411442/the-best-gadgets
- Morris, Clayton. "Holiday gift guide: best gadgets for families." Fox News. Nov. 29, 2010. (Nov. 18, 2011) http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/11/29/holiday-gift-guide-best-gadgets-families/
- "Technology gifts for the whole family." 10News.com. (Nov. 19, 2011) http://www.10news.com/technology/29741518/detail.html