IF YOUR FAMILY is anything like mine, they could be found the day after Christmas working their thumbs.

That is, they probably spent the day hunched over a five-inch screen on the latest electronic game or gadget in their collection of virtual realities.

I almost sat on my youngest granddaughter, who was on the sofa curled up under a blanket. She was blotting out the light around her to create a sharper contrast for her digital screen.

Fortunately, her parents insist that she spend an hour or so reading every day. So she keeps her e-reader just outside the blanket in case her mother or father get medieval on her and enforce their reading rule.

But her book-reading gadget is connected to the Internet, giving her access to a virtual menagerie of e-creatures and cyber-minutia. She may as well be back under the blanket.

There's nothing wrong with being under the blanket. She's a teenager. People of that odd demographic have been finding ways to cordon themselves off from the rest of us ever since teenagers were first identified as a type.

But this is not a generational thing. My middle-aged daughter and son-in-law spend much of their leisure hunched over devices. My wife, who used to be as old as I am, can spend hours playing bridge with animated characters on her laptop.

And I know it's not just my family. I looked outside the day after Christmas and there were no small people riding bikes or skating or doing any other activity that can't be done in pajamas.

This is not an American thing. In England this year, parents of preteens bought up StroboTop Light Phase Animators faster than Ms. Pac-Man eats dots. You can buy electronic games like Mortal Kombat with characters who threaten each other in fluent Urdu.

I'm OK with all of that. In fact, I thought U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman had turned some dark corner last year when he described electronic-combat games as "digital poison."

I think any kid who gets up from his game console and maims a playmate probably has some frontal-lobe issues that predate his game addiction.

Besides, there's no stuffing that genie back in the bottle. Electronic games accounted for 30 percent of the U.S. toy market last year. The $8.8 billion we spent on them far outpaced the $5 billion we reportedly spent on movie tickets in 2009.

But what drove me over the edge this Christmas was watching my nephews play Guitar Hero. They had what looked like a real electric guitar, hooked up to what looks like an authentic amp playing licks that sounded like the real Eric Clapton.

This was too much.

Last Christmas, I asked my wife to buy me a guitar - a real, acoustic guitar. It has six strings attached to six tuning pegs. The strings are stretched taut along a fret board and the shapely body is made of fine wood.

That's where the similarity between my guitar and those played by people like B.B. King or Jeff Beck end. After several months of lessons, I can play a halting rendition of "Will the Circle be Unbroken" and a passable version of "Red River Valley."

I also play several chords. I haven't learned to string them together in a song yet and I still have to use my forefinger to follow the notes on the staff, leaving me just one hand to play them with.

Meanwhile, my nephews are playing elaborate riffs from the Rolling Stones' songbook like seasoned ax men.

I think I could handle this except that they are better at real games than I was at their age. They play basketball and swim better. They run faster and jump higher than I did.

But I can outspell the average 12-year-old. I know words they can't even pronounce.

They want a piece of me, they can face me across a Scrabble board. Let 'em work their thumbs around that.

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith