Musing on Kids and Electronic Literacy

I’m a geek. A big one, and not just physically (though that stereotype applies as well). I’ve been using computers to program my own virtual experiences since I was six. A great portion of it has been an individualized experience.

Now I have a kid. Most people who meet me in real life assume that my three year-old is already quite computer savvy. On the contrary — I’ve deliberately kept her off of computers and gaming devices from the get-go. My stance has been (and to a large degree continues to be) that surrounded by the technology in her world, she’s going to be able to “get it” when she needs to. There’s no need to rush her experience with a computer or its interfaces — she sees it all the time when I’m on the laptop and she’s quite obviously interested from that aspect alone. I can continue to build the mystery, right?

I’ve kept her off the computer because my feeling (there’s a danger word) is that kids need to learn physical agility and social behaviors before entering a technological arena that is largely individualized (and sometimes plain anti-social). It’s hard to argue with that, right? She should be running around, playing with other kids, learning how to share — not self-absorbed in one of what will be a very long line of virtual experiences.

My feelings are starting to change a bit as the technology world is changing, even under my watch — which for a geek is hard to admit. You see, I got my Wii at long last for the holidays from my wife. My daughter watched my brother and I play a round of boxing and she asked if she could play the game with me two days later. She didn’t know what it was, but she could mimic the punching (arms flapping) and recognized somehow she could do that. I sat there dumbfounded… she’s brilliant. Of course she could play boxing with me. I mean, she may not be very good, but she could certainly make the movements necessary to play. So we’ve been playing over the past week, and it’s been incredibly “touching” to share this experience with my kid, even one so young. She forgets to keep punching after about five seconds — I think she just gets absorbed with the characters on the screen (her Mii looks like Peppermint Patty). And if she goes too fast, she complains that her elbows hurt, so we end up stopping. She lacks the fine motor skills necessary to do much more than blunt movements yet, so rather than screw her up orthopedically, we stop and switch to Super Mario Party 8, because that requires less movement, though is ultimately less engaging.

But this is where the technical literacy is playing a part. Having never controlled a mouse before, she has no idea how to use the Wiimote to navigate and click a button. She can clearly identify the button or the icon that needs to be selected and she knows how to select something. But she can barely recognize a relationship yet connecting wrist and arm movement and an object on the screen. This is a limiting factor.

I guess it just dawned on me that I made a dangerous assumption about the nature of virtual experiences in that they’re largely anti-social (based on my own history)… my daughter is entering a world where the virtual experience *can be* much more social, and the skills of using a mouse and keyboard are important in social experiences — as technology is now changing the way social experiences simply *are*.

I’m not running out to stock up on programs for her to use on the computer… but I may set up a computer for her to simply play with once in a while — maybe with some painting programs or language re-enforcement stuff.

More importantly, I need to recognize that even as a progressive, forward-thinking learning geek… that my experience colors much of what I see going forward — but that can only be part of the picture I paint. I also need to see the forest for the trees — that the technology isn’t just changing — it’s changing the world that uses it, and that has impacts on how people relate to each other and to new ideas or concepts.

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