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Technology for Today's Toddlers

April 15, 2010 | By Jeff Freund
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This morning my almost 4 year old son asked: "What's a website?"  I talk about websites inside and out all day long during the week -- but how do you simply answer this simple question from a 3 year old?  It is not about DNS, or HTML, or servers, or lead generation, or brand management, or any of the other things from my daily conversations.  For little Ben, It is more fundamental answer:  "it is where we look at toys on the computer".

This got me thinking about the evolution of technology over time and where today's kids have entered into this evolutionary trajectory.  My conclusion is that it must be a confusing time for the little ones!  Devices are emerging (Hello, iPads and other tablets!), evolving, and converging around them.  Likewise, communication mechanisms and practices are also rapidly changing. 

When I was little, there were three ways to communicate with my grandparents:  phone calls, snail mail, and visits.  Now, this number has exploded to at least 8 with the addition of emails, text messages, voice mails, Skype, and IM.  Each one of these things has nuances and protocols to understand, such as when is it appropriate, what sort of response time is expected, etc.

Below are just a few observations and paradoxes I've seen my 2010-era toddlers process as they explore the technology around them:

  • Why can't you hold something up to a cell phone to show the grandparents like you can when on the computer with them (via Skype)?
  • Why can you email a picture from Mom's phone, but not from Dad's pocket digital camera?
  • Why can't you move web pages up and down on the computer like you can on Mom's phone by scrolling on the screen with your fingers? (yes, we have very smudgy computer screens)
  • How do explain what a television station and schedule are to someone who has never seen a video that was NOT on demand via Tivo, DVD, or the Internet?
  • "Checking the computer" is a complete replacement for the plethora of phrases my parents uttered, like: "Checking the newspaper", "Check the phone book", "Checking a map", "Checking the calendar", "Checking the encyclopedia", etc.
  • A phone that is actually attached to anything is a source of extreme curiosity and skepticism.  Same thing with any non flat-panel TV or display.

I will finish this with one of my favorite quotes.  It is from a technologist named Alan Kay and he states that:  “Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.”  Something to think about the next time you are watching on-demand video on your iPad in the park...



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