11 Apr

Tech and five year olds

Someone asked what the biggest surprise about living with five year olds is. For me it’s been their uptake of devices.

Technology is something that was invented when you were past adolescence, I saw that written somewhere. My kids, because I design eBooks, have had iPads lying around (or use our iPhones) since they were babies. It isn’t technology to them.

It’s natural, and I expected to see them use and fumble around with user interfaces with the apps we’ve curated for them.

What blew me away was when we let them play with Siri on the iPhone. For a while, they would just try and ‘talk’ normally with Siri, and then laugh hilariously at the response, as Siri wouldn’t ‘get it.’

But then they began to hone in on the idea that Siri could present them things they wanted. And within a few days, I realized that was going to be something interesting. Because they shortly proceeded to ask Siri “Siri: show me Paw Patrol (a show they like) videos online.”

Now, where they picked up the concept of ‘online’ I’m not sure. But they did. Or at least that adding that word (possibly because Siri said ‘I don’t know what that is, but there’s a list of things online’ at some point). But they know that asking for #thingtheywant and #online results in a search, which often has what they want. (This spills over into other things. ‘Daddy, can you show me a video of how the solar system got made’ is one I get asked frequently.)

So within minutes, they were watching youtube clips of their favorite show.

I wasn’t sure about Siri technology making the leap to mainstream, but the fact that my kids have figured it out means that I think this is here to stay. They’ll expect it.

Just like I expected TVs to get touchscreen. Not because it makes sense. All the reasons for TVs not to get touch technology makes sense.

It’s going to happen because when my kids hit the age they can make purchase decisions, they expect it. I know this because my TV is covered in finger swipe marks from where they will walk up to it absently when they can’t find the remote, and tap it. Then realize that ‘oh, the TV is dumb’ and walk back and look for the remote.


I was recently talking to a grandmother in town who told me about her kids proudly not letting kids access any sort of technology. Frankly, as a digital native, I’m more interesting in staying a step ahead of mine and teaching them responsible use.

The reason I say that is that I didn’t have cable or TV until college. As a result, I’m horrible about monitoring my use of it. I inhale it like an addict when I have it (one reason I don’t have cable anymore), but my wife, who grew up with TV, can just sit in a room with it on and do other things. It might be that we’re different personalities, but I suspect it might have a lot to do with the fact that she learned to do homework or other activities with people (family) while the TV was on. I struggle with that.

Not coincidentally, a lot of people I know who have grown up with the internet often struggle to figure out how to pair productivity with online accessibility (witness the success of apps like Freedom, that turn off the internet).

So I’m hoping my kids will be able to handle connectivity as digital natives, and not be like me.

I find it fascinating to see when they want to have stuff on the TV, versus when they want to curl up with an iPad together for a show. Or when they want books. Or when they want the book on the iPad. Or read to. And that they will often turn off the devices to go jump into a box to make a fort.

So far they seem to self-regulate better than most adults I know, though I’m sure as parents we’ll keep an eye on it.

But what’s fascinating about the Siri online search anecdote (something we monitor very closely), is the fact that I read a novel once where the characters, at any age, had access to a phone-booth sized terminal into a central computer that was basically wikipedia. And anyone at any age could ask the computer anything, and it would tell you. And the sf-nal extrapolation was: this changes everything.

So my kids basically have that in a handheld device, unless I lock everything down tight. And even if I do, the moment they hit an age where they can access someone else’s device, same deal. So it’s going to happen. They’re going to grow up in that information rich world.

A totally science fictional world from my childhood’s perspective.

And that is the wildest thing about having five year olds, to me.