Anna got a new computer this week. It was an early present in advance of her sixth birthday. She’s played educational games on Julia’s computer for several months now, she also works on both iMacs and iPads at her Kindergarten, and she can dial out on our iPhone. She’s ready.
She’s not quite six and she’s already immersed in technology. Realizing that got me thinking about how different her childhood has been from mine and from Julia’s.
Personal computers didn’t exist we we were kids. There was no internet, no cell phones, and certainly no texting, twitter, or facebook. At best, kids in our generation had Ataris that plugged into the TV, or, more likely, cheap store-brand consoles that only played Pong, if they had anything at all.
We both got our first computers in high school. I had a Texas Instruments TI99 that plugged into my color portable, while Julia had an Apple II—these were the days of blinking cursors and command lines. When I wasn’t playing TI’s knock-off versions of Space Invaders and Pac Man, I taught myself BASIC programming. From there, I took college classes in Pascal and C, and through those classes I gained a functional knowledge of UNIX. That first computer, primitive as it was, helped lay a good foundation for future web-design gigs.
But for me, computers were always a means to accomplish other things. I never had the temperament to tinker. Whether I’m writing, composing music, or designing a website, give me something that works and gets out of my way. So once I tried my first Mac (an SE in college about 25 years ago) I was done with command lines for good. I get the “power user” mentality—I know people like that—but I don’t have the time or the patience. I want something intuitive; something that quickly becomes second nature.
And that’s the difference today. Pre-schoolers and Kindergarteners can operate computers and iPads because the interfaces have reached a level of intuitiveness that is almost pre-verbal:
This is the “iKid” generation. They won’t be able to remember how they learned to use a computer any more than we can remember how we learned to walk or talk or tie our shoes. It will just be another part of their lives.
And as long as they still go out and play, it’s ok by me.