Kids today, electronics, and entertainment Part 1

I read Patrick Rhone's article on Minimal Mac last month entitled TV Is Broken about his experience of watching a movie with his daughter on regular TV (no on-demand, no time-shifting, no streaming making), and how the concept of regular TV, which almost all of us grew up watching, makes no sense to today's children. So I started thinking about how kids today view all sorts of electronics and entertainment, having several young daughters of my own, I have a good experience base to draw from.

Since this article was getting long, I decided to break it up into two sections. First, I will discuss the hardware/software side of things, including software and computers. Next time I will discuss the entertainment side of things.


What is software anyway? When I was growing up, I did not exactly know what software was, but I did know what it looked like. It was words that did not form complete sentences, usually had a bunch of weird symbols, and most iconically, it usually was installed from floppy disks (eventually a bunch of floppy disks). So how are kids today supposed to even understand the concept of software? Words are not seen on the screen, unless Terminal is pulled up and software is universally delivered over the air, via downloaded image, zip file, or from an App Store. So it is almost impossible for a child to hold software in her hand. Not that this is a bad thing, because it allows a more pure understanding of software, but it is confusing to me. So I booted up the iMac in verbose mode, just to see the look of wonder and confusion over my five year old's face. She thought it was cool. And the great part is that since software is so much more abstract, I think it is easier for a child to understand at a fundamental level. We will see.


Onto the fun stuff. For today' children, there are basically 3 types of devices:


First, the old-fashioned screen. This is an all-in-one computer like an iMac, or a LCD television or a big stand-alone monitor. The old-fashioned screen is really big, and it is pretty silly. It is silly because it cannot be controlled by touch. In fact, televisions are usually controlled by primitive line-of-sight devices called remote controls with buttons that you have to push hard until they click, and that you have to point at the TV (so you cannot see the names of the buttons). And these old-fashioned screen devices have a bunch of little boxes attached that provide content. Not big, loud boxes, but small faceless boxes that just sit there. So why do these big screens need to be attached to a bunch of boxes and devices (Xbox, TiVo, hard drive, Apple TV, keyboard), thinks the child? The iPad is much smaller and does not have to be connected physically to anything in order to do pretty much the same thing? Why indeed? (Note that devices like Kinet that allow virtual touch control make these screens a little less dumb).


Second, the computer. A computer is a notebook computer. It has a screen on one side (that does not respond to touch) and a keyboard on the other side. When I was growing up, a computer was a big loud box that was attached to a monitor that was a giant cube with a curved CRT screen, that was never going anywhere.That is not what computer means today. A computer is a screen with a keyboard attached that you can fold up and take anywhere.


Third, the iPhone/iPad. Much like Kleenex and Band-Aids there really is not a generic term here, just brand names. Let's discuss the iPhone first. The iPhone has nothing to do with making calls. In fact, regular phones are just iPhones that have lost almost all of their features. iPhones are for watching movies, playing music, video-chatting, taking pictures, and playing games. One of my colleagues once stated that he was worried that giving his old iPhone to his two-year old would result in "accidental" emergency calls. I countered, saying that placing voice calls is the last thing a child today thinks about when using an iPhone. I think that removing the physical keyboard (once and for all?) from the iPhone did more than just allow for a larger screen, it removed the conscious attachment of buttons (for dialing numbers) to phones. And an iPad?Well, that is just a bigger iPhone that is better for sharing. And it cannot make phone-calls, but who cares? Who makes phone calls anyway? I will throw the e-Ink eBook reader in as a three, part b. The Nook or the Kindle is different enough from an iPhone/iPad that kids see it as a different device. I think kids see this one as a grow up device. Maybe because it does not make noise and you cannot see it in the dark. And it has a non-reflective screen. So it feels less fun, and more business.

So that is the end of Part 1. In a follow-up, I will discuss the entertainment side of things.
And here is part 2

A computer, not a notebook!(LEGO Friends 2012)