I’m not talking about the app that lets you take care of a baby on your iPhone – feed it, clothe it, change the diaper on its little animated arse. (Yes, there’s an app for that, and everything else you can possibly imagine from totally amazing to utterly useless.) But in this case, the iBaby I refer to is my Max. Right now, he’s sitting on the couch honing his radical finger action as he plays interactive games on my schnazzy pink iPhone.

He’s snickering away. Probably tweeting another “yo mama” joke, or uploading pics of his belly button to his facebook page again.

Naw, social networking will come much later for my wee one. Today, he’s playing with the apps I’ve downloaded just for him. There’s an animated cat that repeats everything you say, purrs when you rub its belly, and farts when you… wait for it… press the fart button! There’s an app with a baby that dances to different songs, from a Celtic lilt to a disco boogie. And, of course, I have a couple Thomas the Tank Engine apps including a memory game, a puzzle challenge, and a book where Max can flip the pages with the swish of his little index finger. His hand-eye coordination is pretty impressive; how he puts the train puzzles together by smoothly sliding each coloured piece into place. He’s not even two yet. With this dexterity, he’s gonna be a brain surgeon. Or a basket weaver. Whatev. He’s so keen with the touch screen, he often touches the television screen to try and press a button or drag something around. Maybe one day this will work, but not today. Our flatscreen is covered in grimy little fingerprints.

Go ahead and judge me: You let your toddler play with your iPhone??? Yes, I do. Not all the time, but occasionally. Why not? He’s not harming it, although I’ve wiped raisin residue from the screen protector more than once. That’s why they invented screen protectors! And I do avoid apps that require kids to blow into the phone, like Ocarina – the iPhone version of a flute. Apple won’t fix your phone if it has liquid damage, including liquid damage caused by excessive drool!

I am not condoning technology as a replacement for books (you know, those paper things with the pages) and blocks (those wooden cubes with pictures and letters on them) and all the classic tools of the fundamentals of learning. Anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for all things vintage, especially toys: spin-tops, jack-in-the-boxes, sticks, rocks, etc. But technology is the future, people. It’s happening and it’s happening fast and we need to stay abreast of it or get left in the dust jacket.

Think I’m techie? Bah. I may have an app that keeps track of my period, but some days I forget how to use the bloody microwave. A colleague of mine has an iPad that reads her daughter to sleep at night. Seriously. The thing emulates the voice of a loving grandpa and reads her fairy tales – with animation, mind you – until she drifts off to sleep. To some, this sounds sadly impersonal. I think it’s perfect progress: Mom gets a break, the kid learns independence, and is on course to becoming a digital mastermind – not to mention an avid reader! And by the way, this family also has heaps of regular books and reads together all the time. There’s more than one way to skin a cat – and read a book (about skinning a cat?)

On the flip side of things, a friend of mine sent her twin boys off to kindergarten last year. One day they came home from school clearly deflated. The teacher had started talking about websites, and the boys didn’t know what a website was. Their mama felt kinda bad, like she hadn’t adequately prepared them for big scary school. I actually think she should be applauded for managing to do the impossible: keep them away from the addictive (and expensive) world of video games – Nintendo, Playstation, X-Box, etc. – for five whole years. Instead of growing up in front of TV sets and computer screens, they sprouted up in the Great Outdoors. They might not be the most web-savvy kindergarteners (yet), but by age 10 those boys will be able to build go-carts, grow potatoes, chop wood, and survive in the wilderness for a week. Try learning all that from a Webkin.

Update: After reading this post, my friend Kelly of whom I speak above informs me that her twins’ kindergarten teacher challenged all the kids in the class to build a boat using only items in the classroom. There was a tie – between her boys! Alex’s and Riley’s boats were the only ones that could float. Booyah.

I guess balance is the key. Interaction with other humans and Mother Nature should always be at the top of the family agenda. Soak up the Vitamin D, people; we don’t get enough of it here in Siberia. But it’s also wise to prepare them for the ever-evolving digital world of iThis and iThat, smart this and smart that. We all want to give our children the world. And in many ways, that world is literally at their fingertips. As parents, it’s our responsibility to show them how to use the tools to get there. And by the way, not all apps are books and games to be played in the car or on the couch; some are extremely useful tools for real life. In fact, Apple has a handful of apps for the Great Outdoors, including MyNature Animal Tracks that helps you identify paw marks based on size and shape, and AccuTerra which features hundreds of detailed maps that cover over 220,000 miles of trails. The iPhone also comes with a free digital compass so you can always find your way home. You know, if you know how to use a compass.

With everything constantly changing, how can we possibly keep up? Well, we can’t. But we can start simple. With an animated cat that farts, for example. Hey, it’s a lesson in cause and effect! And here are a couple more iPhone apps for toddlers like mine that really do teach and entertain him, particularly when mommy is busy blogging about it.

Tappy Tunes: Kids tap the screen to play music. They control the pace but not the tune. Brill. And kinda fun for mama too.

Peekaboo Barn: Moo, quack, oink, etc. Guess the animal behind the barn doors by its sound. This is Max’s favourite.

Toddler Teasers: All the basics like shape, colour, and number identification, with instructions spoken out loud and kids’ voices cheering when you get the answer right.

BugSquash: Squash bugs as they race across the screen. Improves hand-eye coordination. And your kid’s ability to kill things.

And don’t forget the books – app versions of all the classics with subtle animation, nothing too crazy, so it’s the same story you’ve cherished for decades. It just happens to be on a little screen instead of paper. Tomayto, tomahto.