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Modern Technology for Modern Kids

Posted Jan 01 2010 12:00am

What does it and will it mean to be technologically savvy if you're a child of the 21st century?

I've been thinking about this a lot ever since my little girl was born almost 10 months ago now. Last week there was an article in the New York Times about the difference in childrens' experience of technology as a function of the pocket of time in which they were born, with only a few years making the difference between children who think of a computer as something with a keyboard, and toddlers who think that if they touch the computer's screen something will happen as it does with their parents' iPhones and Blackberrys.

This was driven home by the fact that I have two stepchildren, a sixteen year-old and a ten year-old, and now an almost one year-old child as well, each of whose experience will have been vastly different by the time they are adults. In fact, I've been thinking about this for much longer than that because I keep thinking about conversations I used to have with my grandfather about the technological leaps he'd seen in his lifetime, which I'm sure is probably a conversation you've had with your parents and grandparents as well.
My grandfather was born on the shores of the Caspian Sea in 1916. When he was three years old, he was sent off with his nanny in a horse-drawn carriage in the middle of the night to Teheran, the family fleeing in front of the White Army, itself chased by the Red Army. In his lifetime, he saw cars go from a top speed of 40mph to over 250mph, radios were replaced by televisions, movies acquired sound and went from black and white to color, planes became the de facto mean of traveling long distances, the sound barrier was broken, the computer, video games and the internet were invented, the phone became mobile, man went to the moon, nuclear war became a real possibility, etc.... In conversations with me, he would often marvel at the things he'd seen come to pass, and I would try to understand what it was like not to have a television. At the time, it seemed absurd, to witness so much change, but the truth is that we are still witnessing that change, only we witness it at a micro level compared to the two generations before ours (I'm 34).

In my, and probably many of your lifetimes, the computer became personal and then became hand-held with the PDA and now the smartphones, video games went from the Atari (remember that?) to game consoles in 2 and 3D, the internet (and the reason you may be reading this right now) became a publicly used medium (and no, Al Gore did not invent it), films went digital and now with Avatar it looks like there will be many more movies in 3D, television went from the old cathode ray tube boxes to plasmas and HD, and even the phone, remember how the phone used to have rotary dials? Now we carry them around in our jackets and purses, listen to music on them, shoot pictures and video with them, and even give them verbal commands to dial a number. Crazy talk.

The difference between all of my kids when it comes to their understanding of technology and its possibilities will range from the sixteen year-old and nine year-old knowing that one types on a computer's keyboard, while my little one will probably not have to resort to such measures, when she can finally use one, and is most likely receiving the right kind of training by playing with the touch screen on my iPhone. It will mean that while the eldest has very restricted access to Facebook and other social media outlets, the youngest will probably communicate on the internet in ways I haven't begun to fathom yet, while the nine year-old will likely have a grasp of social interaction that is between her older brother's and her little sister's.
The sixteen year-old communicates largely by text messages, while conceivably my nine year-old and my little one are getting more accustomed to video-chatting, which may be a good thing in the sense that they are getting used to actually seeing people in order to communicate with them. Is this where this is leading us? Ultimately, the loop coming back around to being able to see someone's face when you are talking to them, albeit with the difference that physical proximity will no longer be a requirement. And knowing that this is one of the many possibilities coming up, is there a way to monitor and control your childrens' access or exposure to technologies as they become ever more ubiquitous and mobile?

I know that, ultimately, I've already been relegated to the stone age as far as the period in which I grew up, I mean, libraries to do research... who goes to those anymore? So the challenge will be how to keep up with my kids without seeming like the technology has gotten beyond my capability to relate to it and its possibilities. I am curious to know what those of you with children think about this, anyone want to share?

This post was written by Hilda

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