Sunday, April 14, 2013

Futurism part 3: Kids and technology

When my grandparents were growing up, technology played a very small roll in daily life. They listened to the radio and drove cars, but that was about it. Television, credit cards, and even modern telephones were not around yet. When my parents generation was growing up, radio was commonplace, but television was a new thing, so they grew up hearing, "don't sit too close," or "turn that off and go play outside!" When I was growing up, television was commonplace, but electronic gaming was new. I grew up hearing, "turn the GameBoy off and go play outside!" There seems to have always been a distrust of new technology and an encouraging to not spend too much time with it.

Today's young people are growing up with both a huge stable of commonplace technology as well as amazing new stuff being released every day. And yet so many of their parents still have that distrust mentality, even if they don't think it consciously.

I overheard a conversation recently about what age was appropriate to give a kid a smartphone. None of the people involved in the conversation had children themselves, and I heard phrases like, "that's way too young," or "kids that age should be playing outside," or "when I was that age, I didn't even have a computer."

It's also a common theme for cartoonists to poke fun at "kids today" not enjoying the scenery, or with their faces always looking down at a phone (example here). Don't get me wrong, I've got no problem with jokes. And the importance of proper parenting and teaching kids how to appropriately use the tools and technology they have is very important. But as a whole, I think the attitude of distrusting the new is unhealthy and unhelpful to children.

I've talked to people who refuse to let their teenagers have a computer. Or who only let their kids have an iPod Touch rather than a phone because the iPod can't be connected all the time. Or who allow their kids to have an email address but secretly set it to forward everything to the parents account.

Sometimes these situations are cases of parents doing what they think is best for their own children and I would never try to speak into someone else's life or tell them how to parent their kids. But more often I think it's a case of distrusting new technology and fear of how their kids will use it. The notion of distrusting new technology goes back generations and in some ways it seems to be hardwired into all of us. We want our kids to grow up with the same values and opportunities we were raised with, and since we didn't grow up with always-on Internet or smartphones, those things don't fit into the mental picture we had.

One striking example of this is in the area of software development. Kids in the US today are simply not being taught how to write code, and in most schools, it's not even an option. Other countries have long realized the importance of knowing how to write code and area mandating students take a at least few classes on it. This video from provides a great look at why kids should learn to write code, and yet so few schools teach it.

The US, however, doesn't seem to value progress anymore. There was a time when the US was at the forefront of progress...during the days of Henry Ford, Walt Disney, etc., progress was looked upon with great excitement. When Disneyland first opened, in fact, Tomorrowland was just that...a look at the future.

Today, though, that ambition seems to be lost on so many people. Sure the US still has extremely forward thinking and innovative companies, but as a whole, I think average citizens have stopped caring and have moved into distrust of the new. I think this distrust is a bad thing and sets kids up for problems in their future.

Teaching kids about new technology, how to use it, how to appreciate it, how to learn it, and how to embrace it sets them up for a competitive advantage in the workplace, and to be more educated and informed adults. Let's all commit to raising our children embrace progress and new technology.

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