It was 1982 when I first saw a computer. I was in the new computer lab at my elementary school, fascinated by this beige box before me. "Apple II", it read. Its keyboard was dark brown and chunky, and quite tempting to my 5-year-old fingers. A black-and-green screen stared back at me with nothing so much as a "]" on it. I typed a few letters, and it repeated them back to me... with errors.
It was glorious.
That year Santa was very, very good to me. I found a Commodore VIC-20 underneath the Christmas tree. And like other machines of its time the VIC's manual introduced BASIC 2.0 – the programming language built-in to the computer. I learned how to program, how to make crude animations on-screen, and how to save programs to cassettes (audio cassettes!)
I grew up with keyboards, joysticks, and type-in programs. My son, who is now 5, is growing up with touchscreens, ubiquitous data, and the dawn of wearable tech.
My wife and I introduced my son to the iPad when he was very young and he is incredibly adept with technology. He knows his way around iOS and just about any app. When we recently bought an Amazon Fire TV Stick, he was able to navigate and work with the device in just minutes.
My son's generation has a very different relationship with technology than I did, in part because there many things he takes for granted. He has only known ubiquitous data – there is no dialing up or waiting to get online. He rips through TV shows and movies via his iPad and Amazon Prime, on demand, whenever he wants. Streaming music is a fact of life. Taking and sharing pictures is instant. He's even a fan of our friend's Fitbit.
Needless to say, this is all changing quickly. The parenting approach to technology that worked well for me, and the generation or two after me, no longer applies. (And yet, there are some familiarities. TV was allegedly going to rot my brain. Now, phones and tablets will allegedly do the same thing!)
Growing the Discussion
This is rooted in the idea that "too much" screen time will have a negative impact on our kids. And sadly, many discussions about kids and tech don't move beyond this dialogue. It's time for us to continue the conversation and think bigger: how do we design a positive, healthy relationship between our children and technology?
Just last year, I was fortunate enough to attend SXSW where I met up with a good friend, Elysse Zarek. Over dinner one night we started talking about this idea... and shared stories of our own tech parenting adventures. The discussions and plans continued and soon, we found ourselves invited to speak at this year's SXSW Interactive on this very topic!
With that in mind, it's my pleasure to invite you to join us on Sunday, March 15th, as we share Growing Up Digital: Raising Tech-Savvy Kids. In this brand new talk, we'll build on your parenting skills and style by talking about the strategies and tactics that can build our kids' confidence with tech. You'll hear about digital identity, encouraging kids' curiosity through programming and design, and helping them find what they love in the digital world.
Registration for SXSW Interactive is open through February 13th. I hope to see you there!