On my desk at work I’ve got a fair number of books which get used to varying degrees. My favourite of these – even though I never use it in a work capacity – is one I brought in myself, called “The Usborne Guide to Computers”. Published some 30 years ago, it describes itself as “a simple and colourful introduction for beginners”, and includes the following, somewhat prophetic, words on the back cover:
To lots of people, computers are complicated and mysterious machines, but before long, owning a computer will probably be as common as owning a wristwatch.
I think they got that one pretty much spot on, especially if when you factor in smartphones (owned, apparently, by around 1/3 of the adult UK population).
The reasons I keep that book around are mostly ironic, but it’s also a useful reminder of how far we’ve advanced in a very short space of time (relatively). Several things presented in that book as visions of the future have come to pass, such as pocket computers with touch-sensitive controls and the ability to “call up a computer hundreds of miles away and receive information from it on your own computer”. There’s even a section about the pros and cons of large “databanks”, which notes that some people are concerned about such data falling into the wrong hands – concerns that are still relevant today.
I must have got this book when I was about 6 or 7, which makes it an interesting reference point in comparing the technology I grew up with to what Heather and Megan are already used to dealing with. I took the following picture this morning, on my “pocket computer” and it perfectly illustrates how at ease our girls are with all sorts of gadgets and gizmos.
Yes, that really is Heather showing Megan how to use the iPad! Of course, at 5 months she’s far too young to grasp what it is, or what it’s for, although touchscreens do mean she can interact – I’ve got “drawings” saved to prove it!
Heather, on the other hand, is a veteran. Peppa Pig and Dora games are old hat now – videos are where it’s at. And it’s not just the ones we’ve ripped for our upcoming trip to Ireland – she’s also a big fan of YouTube. Except she doesn’t call it YouTube – the first syllable tends to get replaced with whatever it is she actually wants to watch (“MickeyTube”, “DoraTube” etc). Navigating the menus, opening and closing apps, changing the volume and even unlocking the iPad/phone are all skills she’s well and truly mastered – and that goes for my Android phone as well as the iPad and Mummy’s iPhone.
The downside to all this, of course, is that sometimes she can get a bit too adventurous. For example, this week she’s discovered how to re-arrange icons, sort them into menus, and even delete apps altogether. Needless to say we’ve now locked down a lot of these functions, but I’m sure there’s plenty more for her to discover.
So, at two and a half, does Heather’s tech-savvy highlight some sort of genius in the making, or is it a testament to the simplicity of modern touchscreen devices? I suspect the latter, combined with a child’s lack of techno-fear . Whatever it is, Gem and I are constantly amazed at what she manages to do. And I suspect it won’t be long before she’s showing us how to do things, as well as her sister.