Monica Vila, the Online Mom | Growing Up Digital

In 2008, when I started talking at PTA meetings about internet safety, the iPhone was still a few months short of its first birthday, nobody knew what an app was, and a tweet was still a cute little noise you heard from a bird. When I asked how many moms had a Facebook account, it would be unusual to see more than two or three raised hands.

Just four years later, most PTA moms would rather lose their cars than their smartphones, and no day is complete without checking in on that all-important News Feed or Pinterest!

But despite our new-found digital sophistication, technology always stays one step ahead. Remember how we carefully activated parental controls, downloaded kid-friendly Web browsers, and kept screens out of the bedroom only to discover that the Web had gone mobile? Now kids are carrying mini computers around in their pockets, complete with HD web cams, high-speed Internet access, and a treasure trove of mobile games.

Source: istockphoto

As technology changes, our role as parents must change as well. We can no longer build fences around the Internet the way we used to. Instead, we need to understand the powerful devices that we are putting in the hands of our young children and properly instruct them on how they should respond.

But there is another important social development and one that motivates me every single day. To truly harness the power of digital tools AND keep kids safe, we cannot view technology adoption in the home as a choice. While I co-founded The Online Mom to provide a resource for education and advice, I quickly realized the effort required me to think of this as a social movement.

And what happens when your passion becomes a movement? You live and breathe it every day and every moment. And hopefully you learn something along the way.

So now I spend my days leveraging decades of communications training (and a few language skills) to persuade parents that we can no longer abide by the “my house, my rules” mantra. We live in communities and for as long as our kids share classrooms, playgrounds, soccer fields and social networks, we cannot expect to keep one child safe and savvy without educating all of the people in those circles. It just doesn’t work. And I know this first hand.

And while I left the small village in Mexico a long time ago to move to this country, I find that in some way, I am drawing on my upbringing to persuade, cajole or otherwise convince parents to share what they know – to be open about the possibilities, to rely on technology safeguards but mostly to widen their net – to take care of all kids in their extended worlds, to step in when they see negative behavior and empower other parents to do the same with their kids.

This is hard in this country. It is not the way it’s done. We tend to “respect” other people’s rules – so it goes against the wisdom that we’ve lived by for hundreds of years. But not so in other places. My sisters and cousins will just as quickly correct my child if she’s forgotten to pick up her plate after breakfast or put on sunscreen before going to the pool. And there is no chance my daughter would ignore or challenge direction from them – to her, their instruction is as good as coming from her parents.

So why this and why now? Because we have no choice.

Technology has connected us in more ways than we understand and it is essential that we work together to learn and to teach our kids the new rules of the road.

The notion that our kids’ lives online mirror their lives offline may come as a shock to some parents, who see the Internet in general and Facebook in particular as a breeding ground for meanness and inappropriate behavior. Instead, we mostly see a rather familiar portrait of kids trying to get along in a world of uncertain expectations, shifting friendships, and over-active hormones.

The best thing we can do as parents is set a good example. If you constantly reach for your iPhone during mealtimes or when reading a bedtime story, then kids learn that it’s OK to always be connected and even the important child-parent relationship takes a back seat to the next incoming text or e-mail. If kids learn technology-dependence at a young age, we can hardly blame them it they find it easier to text rather than talk, to play a video game rather than read a book, to spend time with Facebook rather than the family.

Whether today’s gadgets and tech services have a positive or negative impact on our family lives is entirely up to us. We can use technology to help enrich our lives and enhance our relationships, or we can use it as an obstacle. It’s not the technology that dictates how we respond, it’s us.

And we need to work together – we cannot accomplish much alone.

What are you passionate about?

Does this passion fuel your dream?

Monica Vila is “Chief Technology Mom” and co-founder of The Online Mom, the market leader in providing online and off-line tools to make parents of kids K-12 smarter and more comfortable with the technology that touches their family. Monica Vila is a guest writer for Mashable, The Huffington Post and has regular appearances on CNN Latino and Univision.

Lily Liang | iPhone iNeed?

Some months ago in A Space for Women's Voices I wrote, “I may be only one storyteller, and this blog may not reach many, but for those it does reach, my hope is that Dare to Dream will be a place where women can come to hear empowering stories from and about other women, and are encouraged to start telling stories, our own stories, in which we claim a central place.”


Lily Liang, my first guest blogger, is one of these storytellers. And, as a woman who majored in Operations Research (read: technology and computers) at Cornell, Lily is uniquely qualified to do the “woman thing” as called for by Tom Peters.

When my friend Paulina introduced me to Lily I was so engaged by her story, that I immediately asked if she would guest blog.

She has kindly consented; may you enjoy learning from her as much as I have.

I remember being genuinely surprised when I first read Whitney's iPhone inDifference posting and saw the picture that showed hardly any women waiting in line for the iPhone.

At the time, I was living in San Francisco interning with a dot com and spending most of my time outside of work socializing with other MBA interns who worked at start-ups and high tech companies, including Google and Apple.

I was surrounded by the iPhone craze. In fact, I even accepted an invitation to join a Facebook group that a classmate started called “I had to buy an iPhone because my calculator broke.”

However, I didn’t wait in line to buy an iPhone. Nor have I bought one since.

That's not because I don't like technology, I use technology every day.

I have a profile on Facebook, Friendster, LinkedIn, and MySpace.

I watch videos of missed So You Think You Can Dance episodes on YouTube.

I chat with friends and family via AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and Google Talk.

I use Skype to speak with my parents who live in China.

I have a Blackberry as my phone.

And, in my professional life, technology is not only a medium of communication, it is a language in itself. During my career in IT/management consulting, I have had to put my business hat on to ensure a new project is conceptually sound, but it's been my technical background that has allowed me to ensure a project is operationally feasible.

And because I help to translate business needs into technical requirements – and vice versa – I'm able to make things happen.

I’m not the most well-versed in technology, particularly new ones, but I like to learn about them from those who are more technically-savvy. And I know enough, that I can use it to push a project forward.

So, why haven’t I purchased an iPhone?Iphonejpg_200266_pixels

Probably the same reason why I haven’t bought a flat panel TV or some fancy video game console like the Nintendo Wii (though, I experienced the Guitar Hero game this summer and it is simply awesome): I haven’t rationalized enough of a need to buy them at their current price points.

Trust me – I can convince myself of any new purchase, but being the guinea pig for a fancy gadget before knowing if it works well or how it truly differs than my blackberry has little appeal to me.

Which brings me back to why Whitney's iPhone inDifference gave me pause, and what I've concluded:

Women primarily adopt new technologies for function while men often adopt them to satisfy their egos. When I whip my blackberry out, I feel a little silly, but I find it incredibly useful to have email at my fingertips. For a man, the iPhone may offer neat features that help to organize his life better, but it also signifies a particular lifestyle and status that he wants to express to those around him. Do you know any man who keeps his new gadgets a secret?

Over the next decade, many technological advances will be introduced that will change the way we live our lives. Some will even assert that their advances will allow us to live better. We’ll be ordering groceries and getting same-day delivery to our homes with a touch of our cell phones. Robotics will become more commonplace in the household, evolving from current robotic technologies such as iRobot’s Roomba.

However, technology is most meaningful if it somehow improves our everyday lives.

For example, if my mother hadn’t been open to learning email, MSN Messenger and making phone calls over Skype after moving to China with my father (with my sisters and I still living in the states), it would have made it even more difficult having my parents live so far away.

So, if you want to “improve your everyday life” and/or be part of the “woman thing”, but your technology IQ is holding you back, here's what I'd suggest:

1) Be open to technological advances.

2) Experiment with new technologies that people around you are using – maybe you don't need it now, but you may discover a use for the technology later.

Oh, and don’t be fooled by the lack of women waiting in line for the next new gadget, thinking that it means that women are behind the technological curve. It’s all about letting the first movers (primarily men) pay the premium for the new product, discover all of the bugs in the initial release, and then waiting for the next installment of the technology that is not only cheaper, but oftentimes better because the bugs have been fixed (See Week in Review: Apple My Ire).


What are your thoughts on Lily's blog?

Is there a generational component?

Do you agree with my premise that women's innate collaborational expertise needs to be married with technical chops in order for Tome Peters' “woman thing” to happen?

What could you make happen if you were to learn more about technology? In your personal or professional life?

Did you notice how the myth of Psyche is relevant even with things technical?

If you liked what Lily had to say — and think it's terrific that she took the time to share her voice with us — do give her an ATTA GIRL in the comments below.

And did you see what she does in her leisure time? Now that sounds fun!

Finally, if you feel that you have something to say, a story to tell, let me know!

About Lily Liang
Upon receiving a B.S. in Operations Research from Cornell University in 2001, Lily Liang moved to New York City to test out her process skills as a consultant with Accenture. She primarily worked as an interactive voice response (IVR) system functional designer for large telecommunication companies. Realizing that her true interests lie in working with products rather than in the services industry, Lily then took a job with the College Board with their Product Development group. She devoted her three years there with the SAT Program, helping them to introduce the new SAT with Writing as well as other new SAT initiatives. Her career at the College Board not only satisfied her need to work with meaningful products but inspired a new person interest in educational reform.

Lily is currently pursuing her MBA at Harvard Business School (HBS). She has enjoyed learning the different functional areas with which general managers interact, and continues to have an interest in working with meaningful products that have an impact on everyday lives. She recently completed a summer internship with where she developed a strategy to support their multi-channel shoppers.

Outside of the classroom, Lily is the Co-President of the HBS Dance Club as well as an Afro-Brazilian / Samba teacher and choreographer.

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