The World at Our Finger Tips

As a childless tech advocate I don’t have much weight in this area, but nonetheless perhaps still some valid opinions.

It’s not uncommon these days to see a toddler or two using an iPad (other tablets are available). Often praise is headed their way by the respective parent or onlooker marvelling at how quickly and easily the child picked up the ability to use the device. But is it really an achievement? Or are we only impressed because it wasn’t that long ago that only adults used these devices, and we forget to take into account the constant simplification of interfaces and addition of more intuitive features such as multi-touch. If you think about it properly, there really is no surprise that children are able to pick up these devices when they react more simply than the real world.

Imagine for a moment a simple shape recognition task. Dragging an element across the screen to its appropriate position is nothing compared to taking a physical star shaped block and putting it through the star shaped hole, a task which requires moving , touching, grabbing, more moving, object alignment (the physical world offers no auto-align integration) and then release. All of this however is lost on a touch screen. Touch, drag, release. Visible by this example is the simplification of software compared to the real world and this small example can easily be replicated across the board (or tablet, if you will). Once, where kids would build something outside, they now drag and drop elements on a screen. We’ve limited the full range of sensory interaction to one finger and a greasy piece of glass.

The worrying thing is that the long term effects of this over simplification isn’t observable yet as there are no subjects who have been in this system long enough to observe. By the time there are, we will probably have moved well past this onto some other crazy existence.

This is the asbestos of child psychology. “Remember that wonderful building material we used for the last 1000 years and have been using to build everything around us? Turns out it’s extremely damaging and has probably killed a lot of people”. “Remember that wonderful software we used for the past 100 years and let it build everything around us? Turns out it’s extremely damaging and has probably killed a lot of people”. See, pretty similar.

Now there is the common argument that technology is a great way to get your kid to be quiet when they’re being a pain… and this is probably true, but haven’t parents been coping for a long time before this was possible? What was their solution? Perhaps children just did things back then instead of complaining that there was nothing to do.

The good news is that our children will slot perfectly into the environment they were raised to operate in. So you really don’t need to worry about anything I’ve said. Perhaps this is why old people have trouble operating new technology, they were brought up in a world of physical interaction, so the shift over to this new age is a long hobble through a now empty park. The damaging effects of this digital world will only be seen in effect when stepping out of the environment. So unless we experience a radical backwards shift to paper and pens, it’s likely that everyone will be totally fine with a half functioning brain.

I’m all for technology, love the stuff. But perhaps we need to hold off on letting children use it until they have a full understanding of the real world and then add it in as a form of life enhancement rather than just life itself.

The world is at our fingertips, but we had better hope it doesn’t shift anywhere else.

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