Colors, Colors, Colors…
Our fondness for digital connectivity exists in parallel to our skeptical apprehension. We’re tortured by our own anxiety. These days, most adults spend the majority of their time staring at screens. We use laptops, tablets, and smartphones. So-called ‘digital literacy’ is a prerequisite to professional success. However, folks also regularly post social media updates lauding the bliss that comes with the experience of temporary disconnection.
When it comes to our children we are equally conflicted. We project our ambivalence into our parenting conventions. On the one hand, we recognize the importance of a familiarity with screen based interactions. On the other hand, we worry that if they mediate their entire experience through a virtual interface they will lose the ability to relate to the physical world.
According to a 2013 study by Common Sense Media, children one year and under currently engage in fifty-eight minutes a day of screen time. Children two to four engage in one hour and fifty-eight minutes. And children four to eight spend two hours and twenty-one minutes in front of a screen.
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends eliminating screen time for children under two years old. I’m on board with that. But they also suggest only two hours for children over two. Despite Common Sense Media’s findings, I’d bet most modern parents consider that to be unrealistic. My kids regularly rack up two hours playing Spore in what feels like five minutes.
In addition, the black and white approach to children’s screen time seems foolish. It does not take into account the benefits of joint media engagement, the ubiquity of ebooks, the obvious benefit that my nine-year old receives when he constructs Google Docs Slideshows to teach me about his experience in Minecraft. Not all electronic media is created equal. We need to be much more nuanced in our parental approaches.
Still, when I took my kids to a house in the country surrounded by rolling hills and a giant yard last week I went for an on/off strategy. I instituted a ‘no devices before dark’ rule. It was a big change from our urban lifestyle in Philadelphia. Not so much because of the nature, in Philly we are privileged to have an exceptional park system; hikes in the woods are part of our normal family routine. A week in the country was different because my kids had acres upon which to run around freely; they had a rare chance to enjoy unsupervised outdoor play. To guarantee that my kids would take advantage of this opportunity, I needed to keep them away from digital devices. No Minecraft. No Nintendo DS. No IPad.
At first they did not know what to do. They were confused. No devices? It was disorienting. After all, their father plays video games with them for a living. I am an advocate for video games in the classroom. I write books about the psychology and philosophy of gaming. Together, the three of us regularly review new gadgets and games. I rarely restrict screen time. I do, however, require that their energy also be dedicated to things like reading, writing, science, art, and music. Restriction emphasizes the negative. Rather than turn video games into a forbidden temptation, I usually choose to emphasize the importance of other activities. I let them play as much as they want as long as it is balanced with other forms of intelligent exploration and expression.
Still, after a summer with more Minecraft playdates than I’d like to admit, it seemed like they needed a video game vacation. They needed to be disengaged from their ordinary routines. They needed a little bit of parental regulation to nudge them toward just the right kind of freedom. I hoped that during a week in a country farmhouse they would spend all day outside, creating magical fantasies, adventurous scenarios, and getting their hands dirty.
In the beginning, they were sullen and despondent. “I’m bored,” they’d huff, “am I allowed to use my computer for email?” Was the laptop some kind of security blanket? I told them to go outside. But that only kept them occupied for about seven to twelve minutes. By the time I had moved my chair into the yard and grabbed myself a cold beer and a book, they were done with nature. They believed they had exhausted all the possibilities for outdoor play.
They ran inside and got their own chairs and books, lined them up in a row next to me, and started reading themselves. Ten minutes later they were hungry. “Dad, will you make us a snack?” The kitchen table was full of fresh produce that we bought at the farmstand that morning. I told them to grab a fruit (it was not just a hiatus from devices; there was also no junk food in the house). They came back out with plums and peaches. I tried to finish the paragraph I’d been interrupted from reading all morning. They sighed with frustration.
It was a constant struggle, but it paid off. By day two, they were getting better at playing outside. And by the end of the week I didn’t even have to suggest playing outside. They did it themselves.
So what did I learn about parenting during the week? It shifted the way I think about screen time in surprising ways. Here are three reasons children need screen time vacations and one reason they don’t.
And one reason NOT to require your kids to take a video game vacation:
Unlike physical retail stores, e-commerce companies are much more capital efficient because they don’t require brick and mortar stores and have a direct distribution channel to their end customers. With online shopping platforms like Shopify, Magento, and Bigcommerce, the cost and time associated with getting an e-commerce store online has decreased significantly. Additional platforms like Symphony Commerce and Shipwire help with outsourced fulfillment and managing logistics when your company scales. Never before has it been easier to bring an e-commerce business to life. As a result, these companies can focus more time on building their brand and connecting with customers and less time worrying about logistics and infrastructure.
Many of these new companies understand the power of connecting their brand with a particular lifestyle. In doing so, they can engage with niche customers and celebrate them in a much more intimate and authentic way. Here are just a few companies that are leveraging this new age of e-commerce in the best of ways:
1. Superior End-to-End Product Experience
Today social consumers have more power to impact brand reputations than ever before. In addition to having a high quality product, many companies are also focusing on the entire product experience which includes marketing, packaging, and the post sales experience. These companies go above and beyond to “delight” the customer which typically includes free shipping, free returns, and sometimes free gifts.
Bevel is the first end-to-end shaving system designed for men with curly hair. In addition to having great packaging, its founder hand wrote thank you notes to many of its early customers.
Chubbies is an SF based company that produces “The best shorts ever” for men (from their website). They produce one of the best customer newsletters out there that is both immensely entertaining to read and on-brand. They don’t just spam you to buy new items; they showcase hilarious photos of their customers doing crazy things. (Disclaimer: Chubbies uses our product, but it’s unrelated to the newsletter.)
2. Story Behind the Brand
There’s nothing better than a good story. The ability to engage consumers at more personal level rather than simply peddling a product, is a powerful way to grow customer engagement and brand affinity. David Aaker, a guru in building brand equity, talks about the importance of finding and leveraging customer “sweet spots,” which he describes as shared interests between a brand and it’s customer base. Whether it’s music, hobbies, or a sense of authentic goodwill, shared interests bring a new dimension to e-commerce.
House of Marley
These producers of high quality and trendy headphones have sustainably crafted products and give a portion of their proceeds to charity. The enlist a deep group of influencers in a variety of different industries who share their experience and what the product means to them.
Herschel Supply Co.
This Vancouver based company not only has trendy backpacks, but it got its name from a small town with a population of 30 residents. It’s founders adopted the name of the small town where their family were raised and their brand resonates with many young consumers around the world.
3. Mobile and Social Friendly
According to Phil Carter from Trinity Ventures, the rise of mobile commerce represents the most important wave in retail innovation since brands first began selling online 20 years ago. In addition to having mobile friendly websites (a bare minimum) these companies make social an integrated part of their marketing initiatives for a better end user experience.
Shwood helped pioneer the wood sunglass look that has been replicated by several major brands. Their website often gets recognized for its design and the company took great care to create a stunning mobile experience.
Rent the Runway
Rent the Runway changed female formal attire by allowing women to rent (instead of buy) designer dresses at a fraction of their retail price. They also integrate social photos on their websites so customers can see other customers wearing the product. It also has a mobile app that enables customers to submit reviews and photos directly from their phones.