Plasticity and the Next Generation

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Plasticity and the Next Generation

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

While reading Carly’s post about eBooks and Children, I was reminded of a discussion I had with my parents about technology and the ease with which children learn to use new devices and, conversely, the relative difficulty of the older generation to learn to use the same devices.  One could fall back on the adage, “It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks” but this is both patronizing and overly simplistic.

Personally, I like to analyze this “situation” by first examining children’s relationship with technology.  I think that most people would agree that children’s ability to use technology with little difficulty relates directly to the fact that learning to use everything is new.  Whether they are picking up a spoon or tapping on the screen of a phone, it is always a voyage of exploration and discovery.  There is very little fear involved, and as such there is no hesitation, no limits.  Children will continue to interact with an electronic device as long as their actions produce a response but become quickly bored if the object does not respond.  Also, at a young age they watch very closely what adults are doing and will quickly learn to mimic behavior.  I can recall my daughter as a one year old picking up a phone, holding it to her head and saying, “Hello?”  As a result, children quickly learn how to use technology, and when things go awry, they get their parents or other adult to “fix” their toy so it can be used again.  Their actions seem to have very little consequence as virtually everything done to a computer or tablet/phone can be undone.

If we reverse the analysis and look at the older generation, they were raised in a time where the digital universe was still in its infancy.  Everything back then was pen or pencil and paper.  In school, written assignments were completed in ink on paper.  Even I can recall writing first drafts of essays for school in pencil and then rewriting it in ink for the final assignment.  As such, one was very careful when writing in ink, as any error was easily visible.  I have often tried to teach my mother to do different things with her computer, but she is always fearful of making a mistake.  This fear prevents her from exploring the computer and software to really learn how it works and how to use it.  While she may learn to use different pieces of software with reasonable skill, without the ability to explore without fear, she’ll never venture beyond the comfortable bounds of her “sandbox.”  While this analysis is apropos of my mother, I am not trying to lump everyone her age into the same category.

My concern for my children, and in fact for the entire next generation, is that the use of technology which is so forgiving can be detrimental.  In this day and age, technology allows for so many “do overs” that one can use computers and technology virtually without consequence.  Forgot to save that report?  That’s okay, the computer saved a copy a few minutes ago so you didn’t lose any work.  Hard drive crash?  That’s okay, you have a backup copy of your hard drive “in the cloud” from which you can recover.  While redundancies and safeguards are wonderful, they don’t translate well in the analog world.  In my business, an error can destroy a life.  As such, I have to take care to “get it right” the first time.  There is no “reset” button.  I have seen a trend of casual disregard in younger people for avoiding errors.  I wonder how much of that lack of concern is due to lessons learned in technology where there is very little consequence for errors?  Or am I just showing my age and younger people (myself included) have always had that attitude?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

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