Our Future Technology: It’s Child’s Play

Me: what did you do at school today?
Son: Learned about the world using Google Earth.
Well, I really hadn’t expected that answer.

In the video above, Lisa Guernsey talks about how dealing with an iPad is affecting young children at a TEDxMidAtlantic meeting. Lisa directs the Early Education Initiative of the New America Foundation and she aims to elevate the dialogue about early childhood education.

But now back to my son. If you think about that for a moment it’s quite staggering. My son is 5 years old and in his first year of school. When I was 5 I can’t imagine I even knew what an atlas was and maybe I didn’t know the world existed outside my town, let alone my country.

So after dinner, we took a virtual trip up and around the top of Mount Everest. We also visited Ayers Rock in Australia, the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and my personal favorite, we zoomed in to the 50-yard line of Soldier Field, home to the NFL’s Chicago Bears. Ain’t technology awesome…

From the past

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article entitledSticky Fingers: Our Children’s Technological Future, in which I marveled at my 2-year-old son’s intuitive use of my iPhone and his frustration with the ‘archaic’ non-Touch television we own.

I also wrote this: “From a school perspective, it’ll be interesting to see how it develops.” I still remember the excitement of being allowed to use a calculator in class for the first time, I can’t imagine being able to open up a browser to access the web via the school WiFi. Much will depend on education funding, but isn’t it likely that within just a few years all school children will be working from laptops or iPad-like devices in class, rather than with books and pens?

Much of this technology is already available, but what else is to come? How about…3D experiences of faraway places, visiting the Pyramids or back in time to ‘witness’ historical events?

Funnily enough, I recall on the day we took the tour of the school, chuckling at the line of kids that passed us in the corridor each with a school laptop firmly grasped in their little hands. Now to hear my son has regular tours of the globe via Google Earth makes me think again about the impact of technology on our children’s lives.

To the future

Sometimes I feel we don’t see the speed of technology evolution. In a similar way, as a parent, you don’t always see how your baby changes over a few months when you see them every day. So in some ways, we take tech for granted.

Just like geolocation and mobile navigation have become important (standard) features of websites, educational organizations more and more will rely on geolocation to bring students and other people to their websites.

The development and adoption curve of new technology is moving at such a rate that I think we lose sight of those ‘WOW’ moments (consider the arrival of the video player, the Walkman, the iPod). Today, we get excited by an announcement of a new phone from Brand X, but its quickly replaced by a ‘phablet’ from Brand Y the following week. We become a little blind to it.

So for our children – at least in certain parts of the world – technology is a hygiene factor. It’s there and will be used every day. To them, it’s no different than when we used our pencil and notebooks.

As a parent, I think it’s important to help your child develop the right skills for this future. It’s why the Code.org initiative caught my eye and is worthy of support.

If you haven’t heard of Code.org before, it’s a non-profit foundation dedicated to growing computer programming education. It’s supported by luminaries from the world of tech, business, politics, sports, and entertainment, such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, President Bill Clinton, and Richard Branson. Their goal is to get computer science and computer programming into the curriculum of every school.

Yes, this would help address the worldwide shortage of computer programmers, but for me, it’s not just about that one profession. Regardless of role, it would equip our children to be part of the future conversation, to be the instigators of new businesses and innovations.

As it happens, Steve Jobs agrees with me:
“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” — Steve Jobs, the Lost Interview.
If your child understands technology, they can shape technology. They can see their possibilities and address their weaknesses. They can speak the language of those that will build it line by line.

Parents and schools need to go beyond the code, however. Kids need to be encouraged to question, and not to be rebuked for challenging the status quo. They need agile minds to be able to solve puzzles. Creativity needs to be embraced – not just through technology but with good old fashioned pencil and paint. Let them get messy, stretch their imaginations.

And please, teach them the value of money and of investment. Help them develop a strong work ethic and the importance of not giving up. Technology is awesome, but not as much as those creating it.