In my family, technology marks the passage of time like rings in an ancient Redwood.
First came the beeper.
In the late 1990s, when my oldest children, now in their late 30s, turned 16, they each received a beeper.
That way, when they were out and about with friends, I could reach them, or, at least, send them a message to call me when they found a pay phone.
(We take a five-minute reading break to allow those readers under the age of 25 to Google “beeper” and “pay phone.”)
When my middle kids were 16, they got flip phones. My daughter still hasn’t forgiven me for the fact that her little brother got his when he was 15½ because it was Christmas and there was a sale. A teenager scorned has the longest memory of all.
My two youngest children, 12 and 13, have had smartphones for several years.
It’s a curse and a blessing.
Long trips in the car to see family are no longer punctuated by sibling arguments, because both children are buried in their phone screens for hours at a time. This is, mostly, a good thing for my sanity.
But try to get them to put their phones down to have a conversation, or focus on homework, and, well, it takes an act of God.
Enter Josh Hawley. The junior senator from Missouri, who describes himself as a conservative Republican using all the most conservative adjectives that define him as the sort of conservative who embodies only the most conservative of conservative values, wants to fix my children’s addiction to all things smartphone.
Hawley, who is a year older than my oldest child, is channeling his inner Tipper Gore, the high priestess of leftist Nanny State ideology who in the 1980s successfully lobbied for labels on music to warn children and parents of violent or sexually explicit language.
This week, Hawley filed a bill that would regulate the technology that out-of-control capitalist companies like YouTube and Snapchat use to fuel social media addiction.
To this, I say, Godspeed.
Any parent who has tried and failed to limit their child’s use of smartphones would welcome a little help from the long arm of the federal government. Of course, Hawley might find the sledding a little tough.
His bill, for instance, tries to change the technology by mandating that the default setting on social media software limit children to 30 minutes of use a day. Um, tried that. See, what kids do is find the setting that allows them to change it back, and it doesn’t take them very long. Then they’ll change their time zone or something or, worse yet, switch to a social media platform you haven’t even heard about yet.
It’s always something.
The thing about Hawley is that it’s tough to figure out what he’s really up to.
This is the guy who spent days railing against social media, then blasted Nike over its Colin Kaepernick-inspired cancellation of the Betsy Ross flag shoe, and then turned to Twitter to post a Fourth of July photo of his kids wearing Nikes.
In the Age of Trump, where truth is no longer an accepted political currency, Hawley and his army of social media sycophants make their own truth, and then, when the wind blows the other way, they redefine themselves again.
In using the federal government to tell Big Tech how to do its job, Hawley lets some of the conservative shine rub off.
Here’s how Jeremy Cady, the Missouri state director for the Koch network funded Americans for Prosperity, characterized Hawley’s bill, in a Facebook post:
“The issue here is that Senator Hawley has an opinion about social media,” wrote Cady, whose organization is made up primarily of MAGA-hat wearing Trumpites. “The Senator desires to mandate all Americans adhere to his opinion or force them to ‘opt out’ of his mandate. This is nothing but big government interference.”
Cady’s not wrong.
Nevertheless, I wish Hawley good luck in his quest.
Sure, he campaigned on a platform of fighting federal government overreach, and he’s opposed “job-killing” federal regulations intended to protect our air and water and health. But if he can use the power of the federal government to get my kid to put down his smartphone for 5 minutes, I say welcome to the socialist revolution.