Kids and technology

Kids and technology

2 August 2012 | 5:31 pm

If you have young kids, you’ll know they do some pretty amazing stuff, especially when it comes to technology.

Google “children and technology” and you’ll find a welter of contradictory information. One study might say tech usage boosts literacy and numeracy, while another claims it makes kids fat, aggressive narcissists who can’t concentrate for longer than a minute. There is hard evidence, the naysayers claim, that passive consumption of tech-based entertainment and learning is negatively altering the way children’s minds are wired as they develop. What to do?

When I was as young as my own son, my father couldn’t program the video recorder – he just couldn’t get it right. And it wasn’t just my dad. It was such a common dad-habit as to be a cliché. These days, many old people I know won’t touch the internet at all, despite the fact that it will make their lives enormously easier. This isn’t simply some superstitious fear of the unknown, it sometimes seems older people simply don’t get what modern technology is for.

There’s a generational element at play here. Perhaps some people can only fully grasp technology that they have been familiar with since childhood. That might well encompass every conceivable development of that technology, but when there’s a paradigm shift, such as the one we’ve had recently from mechanical to digital tech, it’s difficult for folks to get their heads around.

This goes both ways. I’d be hard-pressed to name a pensioner that doesn’t know how to fix a bicycle, or grow their own vegetables, or wash their own clothes by hand. I’ve met children who can operate a computer but don’t know that milk comes from cows. There is a danger here that we no longer know how our technologies work; we are users only of interfaces, not directly of the underlying technology. Our immediate ancestors could repair almost anything and still had a handle on the basic tools of survival. Neither is true of the young today.

It’s probable that this kind of mental dislocation happened when the other great revolutions in our history occurred: farming, writing and industrialisation. They changed the way we think and behave. The fact is, the human brain is massively adaptive and malleable. Who is to say how we might appear to our forefathers, or where today’s changes will lead? Technology brings many benefits, and the warning drums of upheaval beat loud at every new development.

The answer is probably moderation in all things. Children learn how to use modern technology, but they should also learn how it works. Face-to-face time with others is by far the most important thing in the growing of small people into big ones. Seeing the world beyond the screen and knowing how that works is vital too. Understanding technology might well dictate our children’s future prosperity, but their sanity depends on the rest.

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