Consumer gullibility and why Bill Gates limits his kids’ computer time

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One of the most unpopular things to do in America today is to say computers make us stupid. Would we believe it if Bill Gates said it?

Not too long ago Bill Gates visited then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and said something rather strange at the press conference standing alongside Mr. Harper. There Mr. Gates said this to the press: “My kids get limited computer time.” Gates said he and then-his wife Melinda had “decided to set a limit of 45 minutes a day of total screen time for games and an hour a day on weekends, plus what time they need for homework. Just because you’re the daughter of Bill Gates does not mean you get to play on your computer all day long.” In essence, he is really saying, no computer for my kids! He is urging us, American parents, to keep our children away from the digital gadgets.

The man whose name personifies the computer itself, who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes the computing machine and its glorification, having become one of the wealthiest in the world selling it, and pushing it, says his own kids “get limited computer time.” Bill Gates pushes it day and night and he will not rest until everyone in the world — every man, woman and child— is wired up to his computer system and games, day and night. But not for his own kids?

Something stranger than what he said was that nobody at the press conference asked him why he limited his kids’ computer time. What would he have said if a reporter simply asked, “Mr. Gates, why do you limit your kids’ computer time?” We can only guess what he might have said, very likely (if we can assume total honesty on his part): “Because computers make people stupid. I don’t want my kids to become stupid.”

Obviously, Dad knows how dangerously addictive the computer (or the internet they bring to the user) is: He has become a rich man designing, manufacturing and selling it. He wants all the kids in the world to have access to it and play with it even in their sleep. But not his own kids! He doesn’t want his kids to be computer dependent like the rest of American kids.

According to a report in USA Today, the average American kid, between 8 and 18, spends about 60 hours a week on electronic devices, as opposed to five hours that Bill and Melinda Gates allowed their kids a week: That is 45 minutes a day and one hour on weekends, that is, 315 minutes altogether a week as opposed to the average American kid who spends 3,600 minutes a week, more than 10 times the amount that Gates allows his own kids!

Steve Jobs, who rarely saw eye to eye with Bill Gates on anything, shared one important value in childrearing: Both believed that computers were bad for children, well, their own children in particular. It was reported in the New York Times at the time that the Apple boss “didn’t let his children have iPads and limited their tech consumption,” even when “iPads were flying off the shelf.” Were these two computer giants right about keeping their kids away from computers?

The New York Times provides an answer when it reports that “(E)mployees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, eBay, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard send their children to a nine-classroom school here.” What’s so peculiar about this school to which all the high and mighty of the tech world send their kids? They allow no computers, both on and off campus! Instead of computers, the kids read books! Obviously, these computer merchants know something about how their computers affect children and are resolved, as caring parents, to keep them away from computers.

There are other products that are shunned by their own producers. McDonald’s, under pressure to improve its employee’s health insurance cost, told its employees not to eat McDonald’s food because it was “unhealthy.” Instead, it recommended that they eat “healthier” food at its rival Subway. At Oscar Mayer, Bob Drane, the inventor of Lunchables, famously known for its lack of nutrition (described in a book, “Salt Sugar Fat”), never allowed his daughter to actually eat his famous invention although she was used in an advertisement serving Lunchables to other people; she, in turn, never allowed her teenager sons to touch the popular junkfood series. Likewise, drug dealers never allow their children to touch what they sell to other American children; nor do they themselves touch the stuff they push, much in common with the computer gurus, Coca-Cola makers, cigarette manufacturers, and others who push their products to kill us all but never touch them themselves. I doubt very much that the shareholders of McDonald’s actually eat its hamburgers. The contempt that these high-and-mighty people have toward America’s common citizens-consumers is indeed astounding. It is even more so when we realize how we have become such dumb suckers. In fact, it is widely recognized among economists that it is the dumb citizens and consumers that sustain America’s capitalist system, which survives on our consumer gullibility and thrives on our stupid political economy.

My wife and I celebrated my birthday the other night by dining out in town. What if we found out that the restaurant owner and employees refuse to eat their own food because it’s unhealthy? Or, just as you read this column, you found out that the owners of our dearly-beloved Gazette actually forbids their children from “wasting their time” reading the newspaper they own and operate?

Jon Huer is a retired professor who lives in Greenfield.



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