Cool Apps for My Son (But You Can’t Buy Them)

Image by <a href=We all hear a lot about cool apps these days. By apps, of course, I mean computer applications. “Applications” isn’t very tough to spell out, but as are many words these days, it’s abbreviated for a technological culture that’s in a hurry.

Lots of things are abbreviated today. We eat fast meals because we’re busy, and anyway, kids have a crazy amount of homework. This trend is thanks to “No Child Will Have Time,” I mean “No Child Left Behind,” which seems more oriented to raising test scores than providing a well-rounded education. There’s an obesity epidemic, but most public schools cut physical education before anything else. It’s all about test scores and funding, Type 2 diabetes be damned.

We abbreviate our ability to concentrate on one thing at a time, too. Recently, AARP The Magazine (yes, I read it, and have been reading it for eight years – see the title of this column) projected forward to 2020 and said that the good news is that many more people will work from home and the bad news is they’ll be expected to be on call 24/7. Maybe that’s progress. Maybe it’s indentured servitude.

In this fast moving age, with a fast-approaching birth, I’ve been thinking about cool apps, since Lydia’s and my son is about two months from joining us out here. I’ve come up with some new apps, but you can’t buy them at the Apple store, or anywhere.

They’re a little different from apps like, “Drink Buddy,” which is supposed to help you figure out if you’re too hammered to drive. (Here’s my free advice app for that conundrum: If you have to ask, you are.)

Maybe my other free apps will spur you guys to come up with your own. (Most likely, you already have.) Anyway, I hope they’re of some value to my son, when and if he wants to use them. Here they are:

• The Privacy App. “The wideness of the world used to provide a constant possibility of escape,” the Franco-Czech novelist Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) once wrote in his nonfiction book, The Art of the Novel. I wish for my son an experience such as I had as a young man. Once, after finishing up school in Cambridge, England, I made my way up to the mountains of Norway to find my ancestral village. It was mid-December at dusk and I climbed part way up a mountain to view the village where Grandpa Knute was born. I had one of those crystalline, peaceful epiphanies. No one in the corporal world knew where I was; no one could save me; no one could bother me. I felt a profound sense of connectedness. I hope the same for him: that moment, that feeling, that sense that he’s connected more to nature and his own spirit than to a screen with a GPS.

• The Wonderment App. I realize that we can all buy and download just about any song ever recorded for our various devices, and listen to them on our ear buds, and we can play fake drums and piano keyboards and be guitar heroes on a computer; and I realize that we can get countless e-mails from and share electronic walls with friends and faceless acquaintances that have photos of nature’s beauty.

Yet the app I want to give my son is the app of a daily walk through a meadow and woodland that his old man does every day. Such as recently, when over a one week stretch in October, Papa felt the air go from very warm to cold; and the sky change from deep blue with puffy white clouds to a low gray sheet of rain clouds. I hope he uses the app to feel the sweat on his body one day, and the rain on his face the next, and to realize that there is nothing electronic that can ever replace that. No app can make him feel the wonder of seeing bluebirds and goldfinches darting and singing one day and turkey vultures and hawks, in their aeronautical symmetry, skimming the ground in search of errant mice and carrion the next day. Or seeing, in the course of a few cold and rainy days, leaves turn from brilliant orange and red and gold to brown and falling and awaiting decay. And all the while, he’ll know that the same cycle will be repeated next year, to his wonderment.

I want to give him the app of playing a real instrument, whether it’s the pleasure of beating on drum heads and crashing cymbals and driving people to dance, or teasing out the essence of life and beauty itself on a violin or saxophone. Or maybe he’ll dance, or paint, or experience the wonder of putting his hands in clay while trying to make a vase for his mom. I can guarantee him that she will love it, no matter what it looks like.

And I’d like to give him the app of loving literature far beyond reading a text message or a tweet. I’d love to see him continue his (apparent) excitement of hearing Baby Bath Time and Baby Night-Night and the other books I read to him while he still snuggles inside Mommy. Maybe he’ll lose himself in the world of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, or maybe it’ll be some new writer, this time from somewhere else in the world. Wherever that author is from, I hope he knows the wonderment of losing himself in his or her world. And maybe my son will experience the wonder of writing his own literature, too.

•  The Compassion App. This is the simplest app, and the most important. I want for my son to find out for himself that he is connected, and not just by electrons, to that wide world and all its inhabitants, by his spirit and his sense of compassion for his fellow humans and the nature that surrounds them. If there is one cool app I could give him, it’s that one. It’s also sometimes the hardest to keep, especially when times get tough, and it’s easy to feel like it’s you against the world. That’s when this app comes in handy: if he turns it on, he’ll realize that the world, for the most part, is right there with him.

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