The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Google.
I’m going to deliver some real talk here: there’s absolutely no way I would’ve survived as a dad during the time my parents raised me. Zero. That’s not just because there were no drive-thru coffee spots in my ‘hood back in the day (a dad needs his caffeine, you know), but because of the lack of technology and the convenience it provides.
I can still hear my parents’ exasperated voices like it was yesterday.
“I don’t know how to make a lava lamp. Why would I know that?”
“I have no idea what Nebraska’s state bird is. Why don’t look it up in the encyclopedia?”
“I assume fish sleep. Do you?”
The question I ask now is this: Did I ever really think my parents had all the answers? The answer comes back in the negative. Of course I didn’t. I just had a lot of things I wanted to know and didn’t mind being a pest because I was that kid growing up. I’m not embarrassed. I own that. A lot of today’s adults were that kid and there will never be karmic justice for any of us because technology has interceded on our behalf.
For me, “Hey, Dad!” is being replaced by “Hey, Google!” And that’s a relief. I want my girls to come to me with life’s most important questions, but I also want them to seek outside help to find the answers I never got because my parents’ hands were too busy cooking to crack the World Book. The Google Assistant, which powers Google Home, provides those hands-free answers while empowering them to ask more (and more complicated) questions. I’m happy to see that because they’re going to inherit a very complicated world.
They don’t need to know how to make a lava lamp. They simply need to know how to ask a question.
Today, I’m a WAHD (that’s “Work at Home Dad” for the uninitiated) and I spend a good amount of time trying to get stuff done while one or both of my young daughters compete for my attention. Sure, I take breaks to entertain them, but if I’m not doing work, I’m not getting paid, and that’s not good for anyone in my family. Time spent with my daughters is never wasted, but I’d rather function as a conversational partner than as a conversational backboard. I’m happy to have a device take up the slack.
“OK Google, how far away is the moon?”
“OK Google, how many species of tiger are there?”
“OK Google, what’s the difference between a llama and an alpaca?”
How did my girls learn how to get answers? By watching me. And I don’t just ask random questions. I use it to find out about the weather and I use it to find out about traffic and I use it to tell me about my schedule. For my kids, the device is a sort of oracle. For me, it’s something closer to a butler. There’s a lesson in that: Technology is defined by how we use technology. My girls don’t spend a ton of time on computers yet, but I want them to keep that in mind when that paradigm shifts.
I also want my girls to remember that we’re a team, and Google Home helps with that in a way that I initially found surprising. When I’m curious about a parenting topic or my girls want some perspective on their experience, I can ask Google Home a question in front of them and we can all listen to the answer together. This forces all of us to respect facts and teaches them that I’m both fallible and capable. Instead of offering up opinions, I can offer up facts that we can discuss.
“OK Google, how long should a newborn sleep at night?”
These are things I want to know, but these are also questions that intrigue my daughters, who want a sense of their place in the world and don’t necessarily want to triangulate that position based on daddy’s hot takes. So, we listen together and learn together and then talk about what it means. In a sense, our relationships become the interface—an impressive bit of coding by any measure.
But it’s not just our relationships. The questions I ask are being asked all over the country and the world. That’s why Google put together the new book What New Parents Need to Know: 50 of the Top-Searched Baby Care Questions and why it feels intimate despite being the product of hundreds of thousands of queries spoken (and whispered) in hundreds of thousands of homes. The questions in the book–and the questions I ask–are both intensely personal and common. My experience is, in many ways, not as unique as it feels. My girls and I learned that at the same time. They got it immediately. It took me a while. Now I take great comfort in that fact.
A few days ago, I talked to my mom and dad, and the conversation came around to The Google Assistant. When I asked them if something like that could’ve come in handy when they were raising me, they gave me a look followed by a five-minute lecture about how soft parents are nowadays. They might be right, but I’m not sure I care. If my being soft creates a cushion for my kids, I’m all for it.
But here’s the kicker: The next day, my mom calls and asks where to get a Google Home. She informs me that she’s ready to lean on technology for a change. I tell her that it’s no problem. I’ll get her one. It feels like the least I can do, a way to apologize without actually saying the words.
Also, and I think this is important to add, Nebraska’s state bird is the Western Meadowlark. I’m getting pretty good at whistling its song.