Growing Up Digital

As we move towards the end of this class, our last major assignments and readings focused on the topics of children, the future of media, and regulatory issues.  I am still amazed by how far we have progressed over the years from computers that were big enough to fill up entire rooms to one that can fit in our pockets to even being put in a pair of glasses!  We have all heard (and possibly have used) the phrase “kids these days are so lucky,” but are they really?  Sure they have access to technology that we could only imagine as children, but is it really a benefit?  These are just a few of the subjects I will be touching on throughout this post.

Three of our assigned “readings” this week were TED Talks that delved into the topics of children, their use of technology, and how the learn.  In the first video, “What Do Babies  Thinks?” Alison Gopnik discusses how early a child develops skills for decision-making.  In her research, she found that children as young as eighteen months can figure out what a person likes and does not like through play.  This shows us that we learn skills even before we realize we are learning.  In the second video, “Kids Can Teach Themselves” Sugata Mitra discusses the research he has done across India to see how children used PCs, as well as how they teach each other how to use them.  By setting up computers with touch pads in different remote cities around India, he observed children that would come up to the machine and figure out how to use it within just a few minutes.  His conclusion that primary education can happen on its own and does not have to come from the top down, rather that children can obtain educational goals with each other in a group.  And in the last talk by Shilo Shiv Suleman called “Using Technolgoy to Enable Dreaming,” she discussed utilizing the iPad to tell a story by developing interactive books.  These books encourage children to engage with what they are reading, as well as with the natural world by making them bring their media outside with them to take pictures that become a part of the story.  After viewing these three videos, the common point I find that joins them together is that children have this great ability at a young age to self-teach themselves and explore their creativity while problem solving.

Even though I find the idea of making interactive books for children (I am a librarian), I still wonder about the effects smart devices are having on toddlers.  One of the most interesting (and mind-blowing) YouTube clips I have ever seen circulated around a few years ago of a baby with an iPad versus the baby with a magazine.  The baby was able to use the iPad with no problems and could “control” it by clicking and swiping.  Then the iPad was switched with a magazine and the baby was confused as to why it was not interactive or why it would not move as easily as the iPad.  To the baby, it was a “broken iPad.”  We have grown so accustomed to these tools that I worry that children will avoid using the types of “media” we used while growing up: books, newspapers, magazines, etc.  So many things have moved to touch screens and voice activations, that the simple things in life are being moved aside.  Am I alone in this worry?  I hope not.  Look below to see the video:

 

After reading some of these articles, I started to think back to my childhood.  Technically I am a digital native (I was born in the early 1980s), but the technology I grew up with is quite different from what children born in the 2000s are growing up with.  My parents love to tell the story of their first computer, a Commodore 64, which they purchased because it was something I was using in preschool.

Commodore 64
Commodore 64

They were so excited when they brought it home and spent quite some time putting it together.  The only thing they were unable to do was get it to work.  They say the next morning I just walked up to the machine, pushed a button and it miraculously came on.  Since I had been using it at school, the machine had become second nature to me.  Thinking back, I hardly remember utilizing it, but the story of me being able to turn on the machine with no worries has stuck with me.  Why is technology (which is built by adults) so easy for children, yet difficult for adults?

I end my post with one of the questions posed in our discussion this week in the form of a story about my family.  The question was whether or not we felt that technology, more specifically PCS, were replacing children’s imaginations.  I found this to be a very interesting question, and wanted to address it more in-depth in my post.  While visiting with my extended family during the holidays last year, my cousin and her husband allowed their children (ages 3, 7, and 8) to use iPhones and iPad to play games, watch YouTube clips, etc. to entertain themselves.  While observing their playtime, I could not believe how savvy they were when using these devices.  They were even showing me how to do things!  This ranged from how to beat a certain level on Temple Run to something funny on YouTube.  It was very apparent by how they were using these devices that their parents had discussed with them their limitations in using these devices.  After a few minutes of using these devices the children put them down and opted for real playtime in for the form of drawing, telling jokes/stories, and playing games.  We ended up spending an entire afternoon drawing and playing card games while the kids would tell jokes they had made up.  I share this story because when I first started watching them with these devices I was worried that the kids were only using them as tools of entertainment and distraction.  In realty, their use of those tech devices were just short-term because they loved drawing and playing with each other.  It also showed me the emphasis my cousin and her husband had put on these devices versus the real world.

Maybe my initial worry of children and technology is just an adult worry of “the kids these days.”  Children today are very fortunate to grow up in a time where they can learn about the positives technology provides while still enjoying the simplicities in life.  Drawing, playing, and reading can happen within a small interactive device or the old fashion way–with paper.

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