Friday, January 31, 2014

Lessons from My Disney Vacation: Part 2

Lesson 2:  Don't be an "iFamily"!

We have all seen the Disney commercials:
Children racing ahead of their parents into the magical Kingdom
Children pointing with mouths agape as they see Cinderella's Castle for the first time
Families laughing together, playing together, watching fireworks together

It is now a decades-old image of childlike joy, a time of bonding and old-fashioned family "togetherness". For me, it is one of the reasons that I continue to return to Disney World year after year, but the reality of that image is, in my opinion, now at risk of becoming a fairy tale, taken down by the "iFamily"!

Picture this:
We are at Disney World, the most magical place on earth! Families are pouring out of the resort with small children, strollers, and backpacks in tow. One little boy, about the age of 3+, is being dragged by the hand. He jumps, wiggles and manages to move in ways that seem impossible for someone connected by one point to another human being.

We get on the resort bus headed for the Magic Kingdom, and his family sits right across from mine. He looks at me with one eye squinted and loudly says, "I'm going to see Mickey!" He then turns in his seat to look out the window, waiting to see the adventure beyond, when his mother does something incredibly stupid: she taps him on the leg, makes him turn from his magical view and hands him an iDevice.

Immediately, this engaged, excited bundle of energy and enthusiasm melts into the hard, plastic seat and enters a digital world. Head down with earbuds embedded into his skull, he says nothing and sits immobile, frozen in that familiar, digital state ....all the way to the park.
He never noticed the passing monorail
He never saw the arched entryway that welcomes all visitors to the Magic Kingdom.
He never noticed that the castle grew larger and larger as we approached
He didn't see the outside of Space Mountain as the bus started to park
In fact, he didn't even notice that we had stopped and that it was time to get off of the bus!

But, he was not alone! The other families on the bus also seemed to be traveling the same way
Welcome to the age of  the  "iFamily"!

For the next 9 days, on every bus, monorail, ferry, or queue line, this same scenario seemed to be repeated by families from every country and every age! This is not to say that there weren't exceptions, but the "iFamily" dominated to such a degree, that I am actually alarmed!

The really, bad iMommy award goes to one parent I dubbed "The Air Slapper". Her little girl had bounded onto the bus wearing her "1st Visit" badge. Her curly hair shot out from under her rounded Minnie cap, and her little outfit matched the red, polka-dot print of her Minnie bow. She was dressed for the day and her enthusiasm matched her outfit. Following in the "iFamily" motif, all family members selected a seat, digital devices were distributed, ears were plugged, and chins and eyes went down. The aura of the high-tech occupants filled the bus like an oppressive cone of silence, but the girl was not buying into it today and made eye contact with my family.

"I'm going to Disney World", she announced.  (Almost all little people say this--not realizing that we ALL are going together on the same bus).
Her mom, sensing a rift in the technology aura, slapped at the air around her daughter's head.
The little girl wrinkled her nose and dodge the weightless slaps.
Undeterred, the little girl asked, "Where are YOU going?"
"We are going to Disney World!"
"You are?", she asked in surprise!
We started a charming conversation , and  my family laughed and shared stories describing all the wonders she would see on her first visit!!
This conversation was punctuated with occasional air-slapping by the "busy" iMommy.
The girl simply dodged again and kept talking.
Finally, however, Little Minnie Girl went too far. She saw the entry sign of the Magic Kingdom and started squealing with excitement. Up on her knees, her unused digital device slipped and dangled by its earbuds, and she started patting her mother and shouting, "We're here, we're here!"

Her excitement was truly something worth capturing in your heart and memory forever, but "the Air Slapper" came undone. She snatch up the girl's forgotten iDevice, and started yelling. Though there is no way to quote her verbatim , basically it contained the following elements:

Why can't you sit there and be quiet and use your iDevice?
Why won't you leave me alone and let me use my iDevice?
I knew that today was going to be a terrible day!
This trip was a bad idea!
Why do I bother to spend my money to take you to Disney, when you won't do what I ask?, that is a good question:
Why does anyone bother to spend money to come to the most magical place in the world only to immerse oneself in a personal digital world that can be accessed from your couch at home?
(And yes, I have seen the new commercial for Universal Studios. I'm not sold!)

Like Pinocchio's desire to be a "real boy", I desire to see "real families", not "iFamilies".
Yes, technology has given us so much, but it has also taken away a great deal.  There has to be a balance!

Fight for the simple pleasures
Put your children before your devices
Communicate with those at the table and in the room instead of those who are miles away
Come out from behind the lens of your iPhone pictures 

The lesson: Don't be an "iFamily"!
Whether we are at home or having the adventure of our life, we all need to really SEE and EXPERIENCE our real lives....for real!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lessons from My Disney Vacation: Part 1

Lesson 1: Technology can fail for anyone....even Disney!

Ever since we returned from the holidays, it seems that our school technology keeps breaking, leaving me in a world of FOG, screw drivers and Gorilla Tape!  In trying to keep it all in perspective, it has really helped me to remember that technology can fail for everyone....even Disney. And I know this from recent personal experience!

This past Christmas, I planned a special 10 day trip for my family to Disney World in Florida. Our family is growing up and away, and I really felt that this vacation might be the last time that we could all easily break away from adult lives to be "just us" again. So, this was an emotionally important trip! I plan everything and planning is part of the fun...usually. In the end, however, this technology person was nearly undone by the technology!

The planning started in summer, and so did the technology issues.
First there was the app.
Since we are all adults, a party of six, we each downloaded the My Disney Experience app, created an account and could then make and share our plans right on the app! Sounds great!

Well......there were numerous "glitches". I finally had to call when I realized that my husband and I showed completely different reservations on our accounts. We were told that was just a glitch and the app was being updated, but the call did verify that we were missing a critical reservation: our Candlelight Processional Dinner package on Christmas Eve!! Now if you have never gone to Disney World, I'm sure this all sounds silly, but this was very, very serious. I was screaming scream---after which we were given some new reservations (and probably a warning on my reservations number!)

After the issue with the app, I needed a new kind of "trip insurance". So, I took screen shots of all my reservations, and with those carefully printed, backed up, and emailed to all parties, we waited for that blessed vacation break!

The big day finally arrived, and we headed to Florida.
Each person made it from their separate city and through airport security without incident.
Disney's Magical Express took us to our hotel
We got our Magic Bands and headed to our room.

As it turned out, Magic Bands are not always so "magical". The first trick was getting into the room. Like a contortionist, the wearer of the band must fold the hand back or twist the arm and body in such a way that the face of the Mickey comes into direct contact with the lock mechanism of the door. Needless to say, I took some great photos of people maneuvering to unlock their doors! My solution was to slip the band to my knuckles as I approached the door, slam  it against the lock area, and shout "Shazam!" Worked every time!

Once I figured out the magic of the door lock, I wanted to associate our "Memory Maker" with the Magic Band as well. This was a totally new program, and I had purchased it the week before.
No one at our hotel knew about it.
No one at the parks knew about it
No one could find anyone that knew why we could buy it if no one even knew about it!

After spending several hours with the concierge late at night and customer service at Magic Kingdom the next morning, I was once again screaming screams and just asked for my money back! I got some free Fast Passes....and probably another warning comment on my reservation number. However, someone finally called the "Avengers" team from technology, and the problem was indeed "magically" solved! A day later than planned, we could walk up to any photographer and "Shazam" --our photos were automatically uploaded to our account. It even worked for photos on rides and the Hoop de Doo Review!

The next tech issue was wi-fi. Each night we returned to our hotel, tired in the "theme park" way, ready to crash. My son, however, was job hunting and had to check email constantly, and the wi-fi in the room didn't work. They did send someone, but we were told it was fine...even though it didn't work for us! To make matters worse, we were staying in the Art of Animation, Building 1, and apparently there was no cell phone signal either. People stood outside to call, and everyone was complaining about it. One lady even marched off in a huff in her pajamas to "see about this...."  Not sure if she got free Fast Passes or not.

And speaking of Fast Passes, we ended up in a test for the Magic Bands at Animal Kingdom. Talk about deja vu ! It was like watching myself at work trying to get the internet to "spin up"! They had newly trained personal hanging out with tablet devices that were supposed to read the Magic Band and allow you to sign up for three Fast Passes for anyone associated in your group.! But, it was a test, and more free Fast Passes were doled out for those standing around waiting to see if it would work.

So, what is the moral to this story?
Technology fails! This is one of the biggest complaints from teachers as we work toward seamlessly integrating technology our every day school experience. If it can  fail for can fail for anyone!

So, what makes the difference?
Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust!!!
I know that Disney is dedicated to providing a positive, seamless, "magical" experience. Even though I was the one trying the new app, the new Magic Bands and the new Fast Past process, Disney understood my frustration, provided compensation to keep me invested in trying, and ultimately solved my issues (except for cell signal and WiFi at Art of Animation, Building 1!)

The Lesson:
If we want teachers to keep up the hard work, keep coming back, to stick with us and not give up, then, as the technology team, we need to offer that same level of trust! I plan to do my part!!