Watching technology change through a child’s eyes

The unveiling of the iPad this week was interesting more for the furious reaction at what it didn't have, rather than what it could do. But what also struck me is how the speed of technological development has affected our lives and will affect our children's in a completely different way.

As an almost 40-something, I grew up with the arrival of the first affordable home computers. I was there at the dawn of a new age, when home computing for the masses meant the wonder of the rubber-keyed ZX Spectrum or the less-exciting Commodore 64 (well, in my world anyway); the ability to write your own – pretty shoddy – computer programs using BASIC; and the fun of playing games like Jet Set Willy or Daley Thompson's Decathlon.

Then of course, there was the advent of video recorders, enabling people to tape a TV programme if they were out, or – wonder of wonders – there was something else more interesting on the other channel. God help you, though, if you didn't keep a note of what was on which tape and then Mum recorded over that all-important episode of Top of the Pops with Blondie singing Atomic on it.

The advance of technology felt quite amazing, but let's face it, it wasn't exactly quick. People held onto the same video players and TVs for decades, almost. I remember the only reason we upgraded from a record player and separate radio in our house was because I won a Fisher portable stereo at a local fete – the height of sophistication! 

Now I look at my kids, though, and I'm amazed at how things have changed in the last 30-odd years and how things that seemed like science-fiction not so long ago are now bread and butter to today's youth. 

– Video calls using Skype seem like the most normal thing in the world, rather than an Arthur C Clarke invention. 
– Being able to watch live or already-broadcast TV in bed via an iPhone, rather than a clunky portable on the dresser, is commonplace for my 3-year-old daughter. 
– A friend's two-year-old son can't understand why his mum's phone doesn't work as a touchscreen, because he's so used to the iPhone's interface. 
– My 6-y-o asks me things like: 'Daddy, can you ask your phone how hair grows, please?' when we're out somewhere. Have encyclopaedias ever seemed less relevant?

My point is that digital technology is evolving at such a rapid rate that it almost makes more sense to watch how kids accept and deal with it, rather than making such an effort to process it for ourselves. 

Technology used to be an exciting addition to people's lives. When Mark Edgell up the road got an Atari, we all went round to watch the wonder of Pong. It was almost 6 years before I got my Spectrum and even then I was way behind all my mates, having had to cope with going round to their houses and playing with theirs, rather than hole up in my own bedroom.

Now, having digital technology at home is as essential as a table and chairs. My youngest has her own CD player, but she'll be the last generation for whom that's the norm. Equally her collection of DVDs is fast becoming obsolete with the ability to house hundreds of TV shows and films digitally on hard drives, rather than deal with the fiddly nature of opening and shutting a drawer.

I actually think the commonplace nature of technology will actually lead to a revolution in non-technological skills and professions. Forty years ago, my mum was employed as a typist for the Greater London Council (GLC) and was got a pay rise because she could type so fast. Now, you're looked at as some kind of weirdo if you can't operate a keyboard and computer. 

Consequently, skills that have nothing to do with technology will become more important. The likes of plumbers, carpenters and electricians have already seen their stock rise and there's no reason to believe that won't change as today's kids eventually the job market.

After all, although technology will still continue to evolve, the skills and advances that are being made now won't be required in 15-20 years time. And, as climate change continues to dominate the world agenda, there's every chance that digital technology will be viewed with increasing suspicion.

I'll be watching the change – through my daughters' eyes – with great interest.

Posted via email from Rob’s stream of web

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