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There's not much time for nostalgia when it comes to technology, but buying "lapware" for my 2-year-old girl the other day brought back a few memories. It also raised some questions about the way we learn.
First off, software for pre-schoolers is called lapware and I bought Dr Seuss's ABC, which is rated suitable for ages 2-6. The Cat in the Hat, text and look of the original book is the same as it ever was, just piped in on a new medium. But it's more interactive and my girl quickly learned to click on music videos, play simple games and sing along with the ABC song.
It brought home the fact that today's toddlers live in a different world, not only to the one I experienced 40 years ago, but even compared with the childhoods of those born 20-odd years ago. According to Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University, this post-80s generation is the Net Generation, whereas those born in the 90s and beyond are the iGeneration.
My daughter is, obviously, firmly in the icamp. If she gets hold of a phone she tries to swipe the screen with her finger, even if it isn't a touch screen. Whereas the Net Generation is at home with computers, my girl is already exploring the universe of online games, like Moshi Monsters, where she can nurture her inner creature.
Instead of watching TV passively, her generation will be more media interactive. Through online games she has billions of potential playmates. The distinction between real and virtual friends will be blurred, and an Avatar-like reality may well materialize.
My kid will likely be spending more than 7.5 hours a day on electronic devices by the time she is 8 (currently the average time spent by Americans, plus texting and using the phone). By the time she's 16-18 she will probably be doing more than the seven tasks at the same time, in her free time, on average, that are now performed by today's generation.
Like the debate about the effects of TV on minors 40 years ago, the wisdom of being an early adopter when it comes to the latest media platforms is moot. Videos touted as good for the development of 0-2 year olds turned out not to be. Eyesight, social skills and concentration may suffer. If we are to believe some experts, online games are turning the world's youth into Internet addicted sickos, unable to exercise without a Wii in their hands.
On the other hand, they may be more clued up, clued in, able to cope with multiple tasks and be more adaptable.
While I think there is reason to be cautious, we can't turn back the clock. Even if I wanted to be a neo-Luddite and banned electronic devices, my kid would interact with them at school, or feel deprived when she compares her situation with friends. So, I better face the facts and make sure she is computer literate — rather than illiterate.
Besides which, the message is the same, it's an identical Cat in the Hat, even if the medium has changed.