Following on from last week’s article about screen time and the convergence of domestic digital devices, this lead to some interesting thoughts and discussions about the connectness we all take for granted, adults and children.  Us grown-ups have had to learn about how to connect to things, and probably via a learning curve involving dial-up internet over a phone line racking up call charges, back in the early days.  Our kids will never experience that world.

Of course here in Spain it’s not quite so easy to take for granted all the time, especially if you happen to live in an ADSL Bermuda Triangle zone like we do for some reason. But as our work depends upon it we have now got two domestic wifi signals available pretty much all of the time, and naturally we have well-established back-up plans involving 3G hotspots and many local bars and hotels with reliable signals, in the event that the whole lot goes down at any time.

So our kids, who both now have access to tablets and the eldest a smartphone, have grown up with the ability to connect to whatever whenever.  They have never had to think about paying for data, waiting for things to connect, stuff is just ‘always on’ for them – except when it’s not, and then of course the world falls apart.

Since she was about 7 our youngest has known to switch to the more reliable if slower wifi source if she wants to watch something on Youtube on the iPad, and she also knows – though occasionally needs reminding – NOT to do this whilst we are trying to use the same connection to work, when work involves voip calls and working on a remote server.  She has pretty much got the hang of this now.

But the hardest thing conceptually for her growing up in this environment was understanding where the video actually was… Files actually loaded and stored on the iPad itself, such as movies purchased through iTunes, can be watched on a plane or in the car.  So, why can’t something on Youtube work in the same way?  That doesn’t seem right does it, and involves parents in some complicated explanations, as well as a bit of pre-planning and downloading before you go. (Incidentally if you are wavering regarding a purchase and you regularly make long journeys with children, I would say the ability to watch films whilst travelling pretty much justifies the purchase cost on its own.  A couple of Harry Potters and a Hunger Games got us all the way up to the middle of France in perfect peace and silence, you need to get a couple of child-safe over the ear headsets and a headset splitter and… silence in the back! Amazing.)

But the whole “where data actually resides” question is confusing for grown-ups too.  I have been caught out myself with music playlists that were actually still in the cloud rather than downloaded to my phone.  Head out for a power walk and – oops, everything’s gone quiet half way down the drive.  iCloud is very straightforward to use for files and documents but you can still get in a muddle as to exactly what is stored where and what is the original as opposed to the backup, and are backing themselves up automatically or do I have to actually do something..?  Often the options are designed to be so easy to use, in a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of a way, that its easy to not remember what you set in the first place or why.

The difference between mobile and wifi data use is a tricky one with kids as well.  You can watch that video on my phone in the house, but I would rather you actually didn’t whilst we are out somewhere – unless it’s downloaded first.  Or we are some place with wifi available.   And if we are out of the country and roaming – don’t even think about it!  This did lead to my overhearing our youngest severely telling off one of her grandparents in London when she saw her watching Youtube on her own iPad…  So then we had to explain the idea that Nana’s iPad works for free in the UK and ours don’t.  International data roaming tariffs are hard enough for communications companies to understand and explain (or, dare I say, justify).  For now so far as kids are concerned, roaming goes off, your phone is just a phone and for emergencies only whilst out of the country.

Unless we hop on Nana’s wifi of course.  Then it’s actually cheaper –well, free – to send an email or a Whatsapp than make a call or send a text.  Unless you both have iPhones and the text will route itself over wifi when available, as an iMessage rather than a text.  Confusing? Really?

And actually don’t tell the kids but I have a UK SIM card in my work iPad, because I have to travel there a lot and need to connect on the move.  And I use it to hotspot my phone when in the UK and not in wifi – although there is so much free Cloud and other wifi around in London, that’s not too big of a deal.  I just need to think all the time – is this heavy on data, such as downloading a file, in which case I won’t do it on the train, because that SIM is still metered data despite its blazingly-fast (in London) 4G connection.

So anyway, it’s potentially confusing.  Best of luck!

Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, February 28th 2014 ©Maya Middlemiss, Casslar Consulting SL

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