Photo/Stories from the field: The computer in the room



Tablets, laptops, desktop computers, parents’ (or even own) mobile phones and x-boxes were present in several of our interlocutors’ lives, in different degrees and in different ways across the countries and over the years of the research. In some occasions such devices have had central roles in children’s free time, entertainment or education; in some occasions such devices have been objects of desire – the content of prayers or the reason for month/year-long savings, while in others a central past-time activity. We have had chances to witness and discuss issues such as agency and value invested and reflected on electronic devices and their role in our interlocutors lives and their relations with friends and family members.


Maria is the youngest of three siblings. At the time that the following exchange took place, she was six years old, while her brother was 8 years and her sister 10 years old. A few months ago their parents have bought a computer for them. The two oldest siblings have been insisting for quite some time, and the parents, who have never used a computer, were finally convinced that a computer will be a helpful tool for their children’s education. They bought the computer just before Christmas, and although they initially introduced a no-games policy in its use by the children, as Maria’s mother told me, it only took a few days of unbearable negotiations before the parents finally loosen the policy and allowed the children to play games on the computer but only on weekends and holidays and on the condition that there was no homework pending. I was discussing with Maria about her free time and play, when she mentioned the computer. She told me that it was a problem, as since it arrived, her siblings only care for it and they’ve stopped playing with her. She mentioned the Christmas vacation as an example. She has been looking forward to the holiday, which disappointingly, at the end was full of fights between the two oldest siblings about who’s going to play for how long in the computer. I asked her how she feels about playing games in the computer. She told me that, ok, she likes it, but she’d prefer to play other games too. And she certainly doesn’t like that her siblings, like with all other things, make fun of the games she wants to play and her performance. So, she just prefers to be looking at her siblings play games. She compared this to watching cartoons with her siblings; in this occasion too, she didn’t always liked the cartoons that her siblings were watching, but she definitely preferred that to watching her siblings play games. In the latter, there’s a lot of fighting involved.

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