Computerized Diapers

In the New York Times yesterday, a story about high-tech "babytronics" highlights some of the latest gadgets for parents.
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First there was the Diaper Check, an electronic device that attempted to replace the manual swipe. Farewell, poop-smeared finger. Now comes the Technodiaper, a computer-chip-enhanced diaper for children zero-to-three. Here's how it works: An embedded sensor detects wetness or increased volume and immediately sends a signal to your computer or wireless device, letting you know precisely...

OK, there's no such thing.

But we're getting there. In the New York Times last week, a story about high-tech "babytronics" highlights some of the latest gadgets for parents. Gadgets intended to make our babies happier, healthier, safer and better overall. Gadgets that simultaneously make parents' lives easier, more efficient, and somehow less time-deprived and guilt-ridden. Sounds fabulous, right?

Except: Who's to say any of this stuff is any good? Or even necessary? After all, the Diaper Check was swiftly and famously kicked out of its manufacturer's catalog when people pointed out (rather publicly) that a finger can pretty much do the job of detecting an icky diaper. "You can overgadget," the catalog's founder admitted after the device was roundly disparaged on talk radio. That was about five years ago; now a whole new set of geegaws is available with gullible parents at the ready.

For example, the article cites the Itzbeen Baby Care Timer, a small, hand-held device that combines four digital timers on one screen, enabling a sleep-deprived parent to keep track of naps, feedings, diaper changes, and medicine doses. Thinking back to my own days as a parent of newborn, sure, it was tough to keep track of when I last nursed and when he last awoke. But to be honest, forcing my brain to do those menial calculations is what kept it from becoming completely anesthetized by boredom or incapacitated by sleep. I'm not sure hearing a bunch of alarms ringing would have remedied my addled state.

But the most ludicrous example has to be the LENA System, a $399 gizmo that records conversations between you and your toddler, and then analyzes them on your personal computer. The theory behind the device is founded in solid research. The more parents talk to their kids, and the more words they use, they greater the child's language acquisition tends to be; language acquisition is an important indicator of later school performance. But the device itself is... Well, here's how it works: Special software breaks down your baby's babble into real words and nonsense, reports how many words you've said to your kid and how often your baby responds, and then measures you and your child's "performance" against the rest of the American population. So for $400, you can now know just how often your 11-month-old shouts, "No!" when you tell him to stop throwing food. Your computer can try to figure out what the hell he means when he repeats "Neng" every time you take him out of his crib. If that doesn't excite you, you'll benefit from the product's real intention: You'll have feedback to fuel your neuroses about whether your kid will get into Harvard, from the get-go.

And just to think: Ben Franklin, Thomas Mann, and Marie Curie somehow managed to grow up articulate, literate, and successful without such high-tech necessities.

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