Friday, March 16, 2012

Old Lady McGrumpypants

Please forgive this diatribe.  Bitching about technology is kind of my bailiwick.  And it’s cathartic to download (ahem…) my displeasure.  Don’t tell me. I’m aware of the irony of doing this on a blog. 

Here we go:
I’m guessing many of you know this scene well:  We are at a nice restaurant, the kind with rotating works of art on the wall and whimsical eclectic fusion cuisine, like blue cheese and beet root spring rolls.  As we don’t normally live in a place with restaurants like this, we sigh into our chairs ready to savor everything about the experience.  Just when we are feeling gloriously relaxed, it happens. 
Our toddler, totally underappreciating the culinary luxury of his surroundings, starts whining.  About something. Some injustice that only makes sense in the bizarre vortex of toddler logic.  Like his sleeves are all the sudden "bothering" him. Or, the only piece of bread he wants is the one you just swallowed.  The whining is incessant and crescendo-ing to a dreaded full-on tantrum.  And no threats or promises of rewards are abating it.
People are starting to look.   Some are giving us those irritated “control your child or leave him at home” stares.  We’re feeling frustrated and embarrassed.
But a catastrophe is averted with this: 
“Caleb, do you want to play Monkey Lunchbox?” 

Caleb halts mid-whine turning his contorted demon face, on a dime, into an angelic “yes please, I’ll be a good boy” expression.  Do you know that game where you do a fake frown and then run your hand up your face to reveal a smile?  That’s what he did.  It was that quick.
For those of you who don’t know, Monkey Lunchbox is one of those apps for kids you can download on your iphone.  I think it’s been engineered precisely with this restaurant tantrum experience in mind.  It’s educational enough (puzzles, shape matching and counting games etc…) and can be manipulated by a 2 year old.
And it’s a tantrum-averting godsend.  I love it.
And I hate it.  
I hate it so much. 
I hate that it can so easily become our default child calmer.  That it can make us lazy parents and that it can make our normally active and creative child a bit too comfortable staring at a screen.  And I hate that it gives him one more thing to whine about: “Please, can I play Monkey Lunchbox. PLLEEEAASSE!!!!”
The same goes for movies.  Or as we whisper them in our house “M-O-V-I-E-S.”  Because to say the word would unleash a torrent of whine-begging that generally ends in a fist-pounding, back-arching, arm-flailing tantrum. (Did someone say movie?  I want to watch a movie.  PLLEEAASE can I watch a movie?  Why can’t I watch a movie?  I WANNA WATCH A MOVIE!!!) 
Of course, like most parents, we let our youngster indulge in these media devises when we need to.  To save the rare dinner out.  As a once in a while treat.  To give us a break when things get too hard.  Or when we want to have morning sex. 
But I’m ambivalent about it nearly every time.  And I can hear you now: An occasional movie or video game is not going to kill him.  In fact, a lot of it is educational and he might even learn something.  Anyway, this is the way of the world now. Being able to manipulate an ipod and start a movie on your laptop are important skills for the world he’s going to grow in to.
So, what’s my problem? 
Here's my problem: If I were a social critic (and, let’s face it anyone with a blogger or twitter account is a bona fide social critic.  That’s how it works, in case you weren’t paying attention), what I would rant about the most would be the excessive screen interfacing we do in modern society. 
[Sure, the fact that we celebrate the Kardashian sisters and elect people who brag that they don’t believe in science would be good subjects for social critiques, but my number one rant would still have to be our collective dependence on screen interfacing.]  
I can’t tell you how often at family or social gatherings I’ve looked around the room and everyone is having a seemingly enjoyable interaction with a piece of electronics. Dad is checking the news on his Blackberry, Junior is playing a game on someone’s ipod, Sister is checking facebook on her laptop, Brother is perusing cat videos on youtube, Mom is looking up a recipe for dinner.  I’m writing for this blog.  (Yes. I’m part of the problem.  I’ve asked you not to point out the hypocrisy.)
All of this is fine in theory.  I partake of a lot of it, and I get that it helps connect us to faraway loved ones. But what stokes my ire is that pulling out an iphone or logging on to our gmail accounts have become our default positions.  We’re no longer comfortable just “visiting.”  No longer comfortable being together in silence.  No longer comfortable (given google and wikipedia) with not knowing something.
Maybe I’m overreacting, but it seems that something very fundamentally human has changed with this. 
It struck me most when we moved to Kenya.  I would walk around town and stumble into groups of people just being with one another.  Women sitting around doing each other's hair, holding their babies and gossiping.  Groups of bicycle drivers relaxing in the shade.  A duka customer sitting outside the shop chatting with the owner, neither feeling any hurry to move on. Sometimes there would be silence, but it was never uncomfortable.
I believe that these scenes, repeated in different climates, in different languages and in our own not so distant past, are what make us human.  And I wonder if they are disappearing. 
So, when I look around the room and see we are together physically but completely apart in focus, I can’t help but feel I’m living in some strange dystopian future, in which our backs are permanently curved from bending over our computer screens and we’re not quite so good at being together anymore. 
And when I see my son comatose in front of a screen or throwing a temper tantrum so that he can achieve that state, I wonder how or if I can save him from that.
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I’m fully aware that this post brands me “Old Lady McGrumpy Crumudeonpants” and that I’m by far a minority opinion here.  I’m also guessing this could unleash a torrent of defense for social media and technology. 
So, give me your best counterpoint!   If you can convince me, I’ll feel a whole lot better about all the time it took staring at this screen to write this post.

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I'm hooking up again this week with Yeah Write.  Click the button below and I guarantee you'll find some writers you'll love!

57 comments:

  1. Don't know about convincing anybody of anything, I'm on my way to download Monkey Lunchbox...

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    1. Ha ha! Probably for the best...

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  2. It's hard when you're tired/postpartum/just wanting a lovely evening out w/loving spouse, all of which I remember very clearly even at this great distance from having little ones, so this is not meant in any way as a criticism, but really and truly just a few suggestions I've learned as a Waldorf parent: 1. beeswax 2. wiki-stix (wax-coated pipe cleaners) 3. magnetic puzzle 4. hand or finger puppet(s) 5. finger songs
    BUT this being shared, and in the spirit of full disclosure, there came a time when your dear sister-in-law Lissa was SO difficult (about age 3) when we could no longer take her to restaurants at all. Luckily for all of us, she outgrew this unpleasant chapter and grew into a delightful person who could be taken anywhere w/o incident.

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    1. Heidi - you are the absolute best with non-tech suggestions! But what is a finger song?

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    2. Do you remember "Where Is Thumbkin?"

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    3. "Anywhere without incident," you say....

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  3. I feel exactly the same way. Exactly. I use technology and then I cringe about it and then I'm grateful for it -- and then I throw up my hands and take my kids outside to climb a tree and then it's home again so they can watch a movie while I blog. It's a problem.

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    1. Emily: How did you do that? You totally summarized my whole longwinded diatribe in one short paragraph! Perfect!

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  4. I notice it on the bus when I go to work. Everyone either has a laptop or iphone out. Sometimes I take mine out just so that I can feel like everyone else, and I try to justify it that I am doing word games to keep my mind active. I wonder what someone coming from a different planet would think if they came down to earth and saw us all hunched over our machines. You should watch Woody Allen's movie Radio Days. It talks about the radio as we talk about technology. I think in every generation there is a technology that we think will corrupt our kids. Just remember to ask me about Saturday morning cartoons....Love, MOM

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    1. You're totally right. As I was writing this I was thinking that someone could have written the same thing 40 years ago about the TV, which made me feel like a total crumudgeon. But it doesn't mean I'm wrong, right?

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    2. Of course you are not wrong. That's where balance and rules come in - as I remember you and Marni telling me recently that you thought I was "strict." I think we had a 1-hour a day rule for the TV.

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  5. I totally agree with you, totally! Living in Guatemala for two years has helped to crystallize that opinion in me. :)

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    1. Yeah, something about living in this context makes our reliance on technology stand out even more!

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  6. Kim - I still don't have a smartphone! And I've noticed how I am now automatically discluded from certain things because of it - for example, no one can send an appointment to my 'calendar.'

    As for what is/isn't right - I think my grandma said it best when she said too much of anything is a bad thing - everything in moderation. It sounds like you are trying to be aware of how much you use the tv or the smartphone with your son, and that in itself is a good thing.

    As far as tantrums go, I remember my sister used to almost always throw one when we went out to eat, and usually the easiest thing to do to head them off was to take her outside. Which sucked for my parents, but it kept the amount of dirty looks down to a minimum. My mom also always brought coloring books, activity books, small books, etc. to keep us entertained. Which one could argue is what the Monkey Preschool app is for you - a modern-day activity book. ;)

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    1. Yup - it definitely operates as an interactive activity book, which makes it seem pretty benign. But for some reason (probably just my own anti-tech bias) it just seems less wholesome to me.

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  7. Also: http://crappypictures.com/2011/06/what-it-is-like-to-eat-in-a-nice-restaurantillustrated-with-crappy-pictures.html

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    1. And now I love crappy pictures! Thanks for the link!

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  8. LOVE Crappy Pictures. And am I the only one who's going to point out to Kim that she used the phrase "morning sex" on a blog her Mom reads? Just sayin... ;)

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    1. I know. I totally thought about that, but I figure they probably know we've been "doing it" given all the grand children. ; )

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    2. Did you read my comment about Saturday morning cartoons?!? Read between the lines.

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  9. Am I the only one who's going to say: morning sex? You still get to do that when you're a parent of two young ones? Phew! Maybe I can do this after all...

    I continue to adore your blog Kim. Greetings from the African studies conference in Oxford!

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    1. Well, don't get too excited. Morning sex is still a rare occurance, that's why I feel I can justify spacing Caleb out in front of a movie for it.
      Glad you're ejoying the blog and hope the conference is going well. I know you're impressing them over there!

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  10. I haven't had a television in a decade, my kids have never played a video game and they're avid readers, accomplished musicians and awesome baseball players! I feel so sad when I'm in a restaurant and every child in the place is staring at a screen. I'd rather hear a kid whining than to see a nation of zombie children who don't even know where they are, whose parents are lazily disconnected from them and usually staring at their own screens. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Wow! Well done Louise! I too would rather hear a whining kid than see a nation of zombie children! I just wish I could count on the fact that everyone felt this way. Or maybe that I could just care a lot less what strangers at a restaurant think.

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  11. I hear you...at the same time, i'd definitely be pulling games out at the restaurant to have a few minutes of peace. It's a tough spot.

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    1. Totally. I end up doing it and then feeling guilty about it. That's kind of the uneasy balance I'm striking. For now...

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  12. Here's what I wonder when I see a 2 or 3 year old playing a game on an i-phone or i-pad: Aren't his/her parents afraid s/he is going to drop that and break it? I've never let Sam play a game on a hand-held device, because he's 3 and I'm afraid my device would end up an un-recognizable pile of plastic and wires. [Sam is not an overly rough or rambunctious kid... just an average 3 year old boy.] I'm not criticizing parents who do allow their kids to do this, I just assume they must be so rich that they can afford to buy a new iphone every 6 weeks. I certainly allow Sam to watch movies and play (e.g. with paintbrush) on the computer, but those things are not as redily stepped on.

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    1. Good point Rebecca! I don't have to grapply with that since it's always my husband's ipod (or Caleb's grandparents' ipod) in question. And given how ambivalent I feel about these devises, I really wouldn't mind if Caleb broke it. ;)

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    2. Very real point Rebecca

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  13. I so agree with you on this love it hate it relationship with our addiction to the screen (however in that particular restaurant, I applaud you for giving it to your son - imagine all the other kidless parents out for a night out who also applauded you...)
    There are times when this electronic stuff really helps like in that restaurant and others when as a mother I just hate it. We got rid of our tv last summer for this very reason - yet recently my tween has "found" my iPhone and is watching absurd mind-junk on Netflix and now I find myself at another juncture where I must ditch that device, too. If she doesn't have that stuff, she picks up a book. So I'm either going to hide it disconnect Netflix or toss it out window - but I will keep it handy for future swank restaurant visits!
    PS: Did you hear about that UK woman who was released from her captors in Kenya today? Wow what a story!

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    1. Yes! Remarkable that she was finally released. I'm selfishly dying of curiosity to hear what her experiences were.
      And you're right - if these devises aren't available kids will pick up a book or ball or try some good old fashion creative play!

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  14. I don't need to tell you how much I love your blog. I'm not a mom, but I think I can really resonate with the challenge of living in a digital world and missing the human connection which this sometimes costs us...

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    1. Yeah, I felt this way even before kids. Just the other day someone was telling me that they went to a college dorm room and there was a group of kids all hanging out together but each on their own computer. We all laughed about it and then got silent and sad and what they were missing out on.

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  15. i absolutely agree with you. fantastic post.

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  16. I'm with you. We love our electronics too, but I worry that it's all too much. We don't know how to be alone or bored or be with each other. I share every one of your concerns.
    I enjoy you and your blog so, so much. :)

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    1. Thanks Heidi. I'm so glad this is resonating since I felt a bit funny railing against a technology that we all clearly use and rely on so much - especially us bloggers.
      And I've been meaning to tell you the same - I'm loving your blog!

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  17. screens up, bickering down. it's a sucky equation. i will say, however, as the person who is pretty much constantly the bad cop when it comes to TURN OFF THOSE SCREENS NO YOU CANT BRING THE IPOD TO THE TABLE ARRGGGGH...my kids play computer games & build computer games, actually, using programs they've taught themselves - they're screen savvy to a fault (at 11 & 7), AND they are avid readers, great athletes, happy to draw and paint and sculpt. Plus they're not always jerks who try to kill each other. I mean, they do that pretty regularly but not ALWAYS. So there's hope that they'll both survive to adulthood. I guess I'm saying that I think moderation is the toggle here: too restrictive and screens become the forbidden fruit (as soda, television, and white bread were for me as a kid); too many screens and you end up with kids who have only huge thumbs and an inability to process outside a passive video interface. Keep fighting the fight - resist when you can but then, yes, dammit, when you're in a public place like a grownup restaurant (by which I mean any place that doesn't serve chicken fingers), offer up monkey lunchbox or monkey brains or monkey whateverthehell, so that others can enjoy themselves too.
    thus endeth my rant. sorry. great post.

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    1. Oh I love this comment! Thank you thank you thank you. That was pretty much exactly what I needed to hear!
      I'm the "bad cop" of the family too, and my husband is as much part of the problem as the solution.

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  18. Just downloaded monkey lunchbox....thank you.

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  19. Really great viewpoints. There has to be some sort of a balance between it all. It can't be all or nothing (at least not with us because I'd be the one going nuts)...haha.
    Good 'thinking' post. I like these kind that leave me thinking about what I can do differently in my own life...so thank you!

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    1. Totally agree - it can't be all or nothing, especially since we already know how effective technology can be at giving us much needed breaks. Our challenge is in finding the balance that works and trying not to feel too horrible about the decisions we make. ;)

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  20. My son loved Monkey Lunchbox for a time. We used the technology as a crutch for a while to get through stuff that needed to be gotten through or to just get 5 minutes of peace on a desperate day. But I'm finding now that he's a little bit older, he's less interested, even when he is whining or complaining or bored. I hated relying on it at the time (but sometimes I was so thankful for it!), and I was worried we'd be sucked in forever, but it seems ok now. For whatever that's worth.

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    1. THis is the best. news. ever! I'd love for him to grow out of whining to be in front of ML. Truth is if he hasn't played it for a few days he forgets about it (same goes for movies) and that also is reassuring!
      Glad you liked the post!

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  21. No counterpoints from me. My husband knows that his toys are off-limits for the kids. I do use television to buy time for showers and cooking dinner, but I don't want them already staring at a screen to interact with each other. They can learn that in ten minutes when they are older.

    I don't blame people for doing it, I just prefer to keep it as far away as I can for as long as I can.

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    1. Sound like great choices to me!

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  22. I have been thinking a lot about this same thing lately. As you describe, my husband and my 'default positions' after our son goes to bed are to turn to our individual laptops and, basically, ignore each other without really intending to do that. It just... happens. I'm trying to figure out a system of 'no laptop nights' or whatever just to get back to having real conversations again.
    Great post :)

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    1. So many of us are struggling with the same thing. I know a few couples who have instituted "no technology night" and many people who are giving up things like facebook for lent. It's not perfect but definitely a step in the right direction. SOmeone recently told me that facebook is more addictive than a typical gateway drug. I have no idea about the source or validity of that statement, but it seems to ring true...

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  23. I couldn't agree more with your point, and if I may just point it out, I absolutely LOVE the way you made it. We are all guilty of exactly what you wrote—spending too much time in front of some kind of screen, and not enough time actually interacting. It's good to be reminded of that fact. Last week, I was too busy to write in my blog, I didn't tweet a single word, and I only checked FB once a day for a few minutes. I missed it, and I really wanted to sit down and write, but the weather was beautiful and the kids wanted to toss around the football—so I did. My sister was moving, and needed help all weekend—so I helped. After reading your post, and thinking back on why I have felt so out of touch lately, I realized that being out of touch with technology (and being in touch with family) is actually a good thing. Thanks for sharing.

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  24. Hi Kim. I'm going to have to say you ought to just go with it, with limits. I'm old(er) and I love technology. I've met a lot of people via Twitter and here at YeahWrite that I wouldn't have met otherwise. I have a niece who's been playing games on her parents, and mine, iPhone in restaurants since she was two. Now she's creating them, at 10! She's also a non-stop reader. She's read all the Warrior books and is now into Lord of the Rings. I think with limits, like saying, hey its time to go outside and play for awhile, a parent can achieve a certain balance. I also think kids should be exposed to nice restaurants that their parents would like to experience. Rather than leave him at home. If it takes a video game for him to enjoy it, so be it. My 2 cents... I love that you got us talking about this issue. I do recognize that the other side of it is people walking down the street and bumping into you as they're consumed with their device. I do not condone that!

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  25. I love your post. I felt the same way when I spent part of a my summer after college in Ukraine. Such simplicity! My friends and I would joke about how we all spend so much of our lives staring at rectangle boxes (computers, tvs, cell phones, iPods, etc.), but it is kind of sad. In the same breath, I don't think that it is going to really alter the fact that I do it. :/

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  26. I do believe there is a happy medium Kim, and the struggle is to find that right place. For us, being food people (i.e. people who dine out A LOT) having basically grown up in restaurants, they know how to behave. Now, church is another animal. That's the place I wish I could offer a portable DVD player!
    I worked with a fabulous speech therapist when I was teaching who mentioned that each minute a child spent on the computer, in front of the tv or playing video games was a minute they lost learning socially acceptable skills. That has motivated me tremendously!

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  27. We probably aren't the right audience for your post, because we are probably all addicts who are fighting the same feelings.

    Just downloaded Monkey Lunchbox btw ;) As if to prove the point!

    Frankly I am more worried by how much I am on my smartphone, rather than the kids! We have a pretty strict Saturdays only policy for the home computer for them. And their phone use is limited because I don't trust them not to drop it/rearrange everything/send texts to my boss ;)

    Great post, and CONGRATS on your well-deserved win! :)

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    1. Totally agree that this was the wrong audience for the post. Frankly, I was hoping that more people would sing the praises of technology addiction so I could feel less guilty about the time I do spend in front of a screen. ; )

      I like your Saturday only policy for the computer! We'll have to institute something like that over here...

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  28. I have a co worker who couldn't get her son to poop on the toilet. I said only let him have angry birds as a poop reward ...It worked in TWO days.

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    1. THis is fantastic news - especially since we are regressing in the poop department over here. I'll let you know how it goes...

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