Kids tech

Kids today, eh? They can watch whatever they want whenever they want, and they've never known life without always-on, connected, touchscreen devices. But where will that lead?

This weekend there were a couple of small people in my house. Okay, a couple of additional small people (I am, after all, marginally below what might be deemed 'adult' height.)

I had the pleasure of hosting my nephew and niece for a couple of days. A couple of days of swimming, petting farm animals and adults trying to stay awake until kids' bedtime.

As ever when in the company of small children I was fascinated by their interaction with technology. My neice will happily play for hours with an Innotech tablet, and both are keen for a bit of time with a grown up smartphone or tablet. Apps and websites are as much standard parts of their lives as are teddy bears and bicycles. But the really interesting thing to watch is how they get to grips for the first time with new devices.

My seven-year-old nephew is an early riser, allowed to watch a bit of TV before the rest of the household wakes up. At home he uses a Virgin V Box and a DVD player. And he uses them sufficiently well to require his parents to regularly switch the PIN to prevent unwelcome surprises when the monthly bill comes in. (See also: The best maths apps for children - iPhone, iPad and Android apps for kids.)

We have a Sky+ HD box, however. So I spent a little time showing him how to switch on the TV and use the EPG. I might as well have been a gorilla trying to teach a developer to code. Within minutes he was happily streaming on-demand movies using functions and features I didn't know we had. Again: he's seven years old.

I shouldn't have been surprised. His cousin used to 'borrow' his mum's phone and capture videos of her ankles as she went about her daily chores. This wouldn't have been so remarkable were it not for the fact that he also used to post the clips to YouTube. He'd watched his mother do so, and simply followed the intuitive process on her Android phone. He wasn't even two at the time.

None of this is in the way of humble bragging about the children in my life. This is now standard behaviour from digital-native kids. Kids grow up expecting to be able to access everything, everywhere and at any time. And they expect it with a touchscreen.

There are a couple of factors involved in this trend. (See also: 17 best free and cheap Android apps for kids, toddlers and teens.)

The birth of generation tech

For one thing consumer tech companies, with Apple in the vanguard, have pushed hard to make computing devices easy to use. You really shouldn't need a manual to use any modern personal computer, regardless of the form factor.

But the critical factor is expectations. We recently gifted an iPad to my mother-in-law. She is capable, committed to lifelong learning, and computer literate. But still her first instinct upon booting a device new to her was to ask for advice on how to use it. Those of us not brought up with connected computers expect to be able to learn how to use them, the first digital native generation fiddles around until they work it out - even if they cannot yet read.

Those of us beyond the teenage years are too scared that we might break things.

All of which makes the next generations of technological development fascinating to anticipate. What will generation tech develop, and how fast will that make the already searing pace of IT development?

And what does that mean for culture - it can't all be good? None of my nieces and nephews can understand the concept of not being able to watch a particular show or movie, in any device, at any time. On TV they don't, as we did, watch non-offensive programming primarily made for adults. They watch only content aimed at their specific age group. They're never bored.

These are almost all categorically good things. But they do mean that generation tech is growing up in a subtly but significantly different way to every preceeding generation of children. And where that leads no-one knows. (See also: 10 best children's tablets: What's the best tablet for kids?)

Photo by Alec Courosa on Flickr.

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