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I stuck up for the kids. And I stuck up for their devices. I did it right here. I wrote, “This summer, our kids will be a writing a ton.” I said, “We might if not encourage then at least recognize what they are doing.”

Then along came Apple “Tapback.” You may have encountered this app. You sent someone a text message, labored through the effort of writing. Then back at you came your exact message, in quotes, with a few tiny introductory, qualifying words in the beginning, such as “Liked,” Disliked,” “Laughed at.”

I was at the fine Council of Writing Program Administrators conference in Sacramento last week. It’s attended by people like me who have dedicated their lives to teaching writing, reading, literacy. One morning, I was talking with a friend, and, while kvetching about this Tapback function, I mentioned that post I had written.

Let’s cut over to a travel practice of mine. For years, for every work trip, I would create a little travelogue of the experience to share with my kids. First, I used PowerPoint, creating one slide per day describing my trip while adding facts about the place. I’d include pictures, sometimes a little quiz.

They seemed to enjoy it, often asking me on the phone when I was going to email the “slideshow.”

But time passed. It got to the point that no one read my PowerPoints, certainly not in a timely fashion. I was annoyed, because it wasn’t an easy thing to create them. I’m busy at these conferences. Sometimes, I would end up composing them on the plane, all bleary-eyed.

So, I switched technologies, going for the easier-to-access Google slides. This worked for a while, but even then I could see their readerly interest diminishing. After all, the kids can drive now! What do they want with slide show about Dad’s journeys?

So, I changed technologies again. I came to them. In a family group text, I’d pepper them with info and the occasional picture. They’re always interested in seeing my hotel room and the view, and they seem perpetually fascinated by the various sandwiches and people I encounter. I also still tell them about the place I’m visiting, at times dropping a little reality on them.

So there’s your context.

At CWPA, I had been sending these texts, but now I was getting stupid “Tapbacks.” It was this I was lamenting to my friend.

In the midst of my barrage of sandwich- and view-related texts, I also sent them a more somber note about Sacramento’s large homeless population. “On the downside, there are millions of homeless people here.” I want them to think about these things, these tough social justice issues!

I had sent that text the night before, and just as I was talking to my friend about digital literacy, I got a Tapback from my lovely daughter. She quoted the above and began it with “Laughed at…”! Mind you, my daughter may be many things, but she’s not insensitive to the plight of others. In fact, sticking up for the downtrodden has long been one of her best traits. My friend, who knows some of the exciting stories about my daughter, and I looked at this Tapback and, considering our conversation about digital literacy, just had to laugh.

Later, when I asked my daughter about this choice of Tapback, she simply said, “I didn’t know what you were going for.” To her, I was the problem!

Okay, digital literacy, you’re making it tough for me to have your back.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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