Kids aren’t living in a digital world – not wholly, not yet anyway

Posted on October 15, 2011

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It’s a variation on a theme you’ll know well by now. A child – in this case a one-year-old – mistakes a bit of Old Media for an iPad. Mashable even devoted this short clip to its ‘YouTube Video of the Day’.

You can clearly see the infant try to swipe, pinch and otherwise use her fingers on a printed page. (Though at 36sec in I reckon she’s going for the perfume freebie.)

There’s the Aww angle sure. But is there something more worrying going on?

About half the people I know (I’m guessing here – I haven’t polled ALL of them) tell me I shouldn’t worry about this. They might call it progress. As some of the commenters at the foot of the Mashable piece say: Didn’t  people get equally freaked about the printing press? The typewriter?? The home PC???

The other half aren’t necessarily against their children being tech-savvy. In fact I know they’re not. They just think there’s a place for books, painting, dexterity, skill, craft. You know – analogue stuff.

A few years back I was chairing a tech conference. The lunch-time speaker was Professor Heinz Wolff (www.heinzwolff.co.uk). (Yes, he of the excellent 1980s <em>Great Egg Race</em> show.) He made a great point: He told everyone research has shown we learn more readily when we are using our hands. It might not be that weaving, skewering meat or crafting a clay pot is all that interesting but that somehow our brains are wired so they’re more receptive to ideas and other brain stuff (apologies for the science) when our physical digits are in play.

Who was I to argue?

Now you can argue that using an iPad like the one-year-old above involves dexterity. A friend of mine shed some light on this a couple of weeks back.

I was pointing out that my little girl loves to draw and colour in. He told me I should let her use the ‘family’ iPad more. After all, his young nephews love theirs. Want to colour in? The iPad has kids apps for that.

“And I’m sure” I added, “some of them make it easier not to draw outside the lines.”

For us, as time-poor, flawed adults, a computing device – which a tablet is (OK, an argument for another time) – is a boon as it makes up for our mistakes. But for a toddler those mistakes are crucial. It’s how they learn, it shows progress and – as Prof Wolff said – it might just be central to something that makes us human, something that goes back 100,000 years+ in evolutionary terms.

Let’s not forget that personal digital devices, while some of our kids have not known a world without them, only go back a few decades.

So I’m not convinced that we should throw (in a nice way) iPads at our youngest kids.

Apple vs Evolution? No contest.

A lot of you reading this have small kids. You also know about tech. Any chance of you letting me know your thoughts below?

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