Wrestling with the future: iPad edition

By Razib Khan | March 23, 2013 3:32 am

Today I was missing my daughter, so I decided to Skype with her on my phone. The phone has a camera which can record video, so I can talk to her, and if she gets bored I’ll show her something besides my face. I take this for granted, but it is interesting to reflect that my “video phone” is actually just a regular phone on which I installed a third party application to enable two way video calls. It’s a banal and marginal use for the device. Information technology is far more ubiquitous than the occasional video conference.

Over at The Atlantic there’s a piece up, The Touch-Screen Generation, which channels some of the moral panic sweeping across this nation. Some of this panic may be justified, but as noted in the article this is something we’ve all seen before, all the way back to Plato and his fellow travelers worrying about the effect of literacy upon memory. And as parents we’ll have to set ground rules and guide lines. Because of the social and networked nature of modern technology I doubt that we’re in any danger of raising up a generation of Solarians.

One aspect of the piece in The Atlantic which is not excessively emphasized is that not all children are the same. Some children take to books very early, and some never take to books. This may be dispositional or situational, but it is nevertheless critical in determining future life trajectory. The small initial differences between young children in their information content diverges radically as the readers continue to absorb and expand their knowledge base at a far higher rate than non-readers. Modern information technology has the potential to widen these gaps. While some children might peruse Wikipedia for hours on end, others could wile away the hours on video sites.

MORE ABOUT: Technology
  • marcel proust

    And kids come to various things at quite different ages which may, or may not, affect their long term use of them.

    My son had no interest in learning to read early and despite being very very verbal, entered 1st grade not knowing how to read (unlike, apparently, all his fellow, white upper middle class classmates, at least according to the scolding I received from his 1st grade teacher). And he never had much interest in reading for pleasure until HS. As an adult, he reads with much more care and appreciation for word choice and meter than I ever have. He once mentioned that the professor of one of his college poetry-writing classes complimented him on his appreciation for meter and asked about its source. His answer was that it came from listening to hip-hop.

    Most expressions of concern about the decline of civilization as we know it and “think of the children” are wildly overblown, at least with regard to cultural developments. Genetic engineering (& technology more generally) on the other hand is a different matter 😉

    Also (while I’m at it), get off of my lawn

  • JonFrum

    Good God – kids should be starting to learn to read in the first grade. That’s when I started, and please don’t try to tell me that this generation is ahead of me in reading development. The fact is that while you can cram kids to a limited degree, over time it all washes out. Our current generation of grade schoolers are not reading Proust in the fifth grade, as far as I know.

    • marcel proust

      I’ve heard many times, but never bothered to verify, that Finnish schools don’t begin teaching kids to read before ages 7-8 because of something having to do with brain development.* So not even sure that 1st grade is the right time. I imagine that to the extent that there is an optimal age for starting to learn to read, it will vary based on not only SE factors but also the language and script.

      *And since Finnish schools regularly rank at the top of international comparisons, it necessarily follows that [we should all be doing as they do in Finland].


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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