The Technium

Born Digital

[Translations: JapaneseUkrainian]

What does it mean to grow up in a digital world? Here are a few anecdotes told to me by friends and readers:

My friend had a young daughter under 5 years old. Like many other families these days, they have no tv in their house, but do have has lots of computers. With his daughter he was visiting another family who had a tv, which was on in another room. The daughter went up to the tv, hunting around it, and looked behind the tv. “Where’s the mouse?” she asked.

Baby ipad sm250
Another friend had a barely-speaking toddler take over his iPad. She could paint and handle complicated tasks on apps with ease and grace almost before she could walk. It is now sort of her iPad. One day he printed out a high resolution image on photo paper and left it on the coffee table. He noticed his toddler come up to up and try to unpinch the photo to make it larger, like you do on an iPad. She tried it a few times, without success, and looked over to him and said “broken.”

A 21-year old reader told me this one. She sometimes works at a theme park. Once a little girl took her picture, and after she did, she told the park worker, “But it’s not a real camera, it doesn’t have the picture on the back”.

Another reader had this story. Her son had access to a computer starting at the age of 2. Once while they were shopping in a grocery store, she paused to find a label on a product. “Just click on it,” her son suggested.

Yet another acquaintance told me this story. He has a son about 8 years old. They were talking about the old days, and the fact that when my friend was growing up they did not have computers. This fact was perplexing news to his son. His son asks, “But how did you get onto the internet before computers?”

I take two lessons from the mouth of babes: if something is not interactive, with mouse or gestures, it is broken. And, the internet is not about computers or devices; it is something mythic, something much larger; it is about humanity.

UPDATE: I added two stories. Tell me more.

  • DmactavishF

    Is a plow part of the real world? that’s a piece of technology that revolutionized the world. Like it or not this is what the real world is becoming.

  • guest

    something can be forward thinking and pessimistic at the same time.

  • We have TV in our house but we DVR almost everything.  My son, at about the age of 2, started saying “go, go, go!” whenever a show went to commercial break, meaning he wanted us to fast forward through the commercial.

  • Billy

    Disclosure: I’m 66-years-young. My Mother used an old Underwood upright typewriter to type my Dad’s invoices (he was a doctor). Somehow the Underwood was passed along to me. A seven-year-old visiting our house was fascinated by the typewriter, studying it on and off for an hour. Puzzled by the design, he asked, “Where do you plug in the printer?”

    • Kevin_Kelly

      That’s good!

  • Dan Ellender

    Your frustration speaks of our human tendency to  quickly normalize our actions to  our situation, regardless of age.  The fact that toddlers make errors doing this comes from their back of experience, not through some fatal tunnel vision caused by technology.

  • essayist

    Attributed, by Internet tradition, to a current six year old (or Oscar Wilde), upon seeing Niagara Falls: “Is that all it does?”

  • ABC: Alphabetization of the Popular Mind authors
    Barry Sanders and Ivan Illich talk about the loss of orality and how people can no longer recite long geneologies or poems the way they could before writing.

    It’s true, every information technology changes the way we perceive the world and the way we organize ourselves into groups. It can’t be stopped but for parents it can be directed toward creativity, interaction, and what ever virtues the parent values.

    for more see

  • Aidenn0

    FYI Your eight-year-old is violating Google’s TOS by having a gmail account.

  • My 1year and 8months son unlocks the ipad by himslef (sliding finger to the right), and selects if he wants to play “Angry Birds” or if he want’s to watch old “Mickey Mouse” cartoons I’ve have put on the videos section. 
    He now learned how to touch the middle of the screen to display the video controls, where now he always slide the volume slider in order to increase volume.

    Whenever I turn up/down volume on the TV, he runs to tv and tries to slide his finger to control TV’s volume :)

  • Chesart

    when a young child is busy interacting with technology are they missing the hours spent with blocks or clothespins or the sandbox that helps them learn to interact with a three dimensional world?   They are learning icons and symbols before exploring the physical properties of stuff.  It has to affect their thinking one way or another.  

    • Elansunstar

      This is a big issue in education philosophy.
      the simple key is limit tech time and supplement with nature and physical play.
      Play-Stuart Brown
      Play increses connectivity and comprehension  physical non  competitive play .

  • Kids :) got several stories of my own, here’s from on top of my head: one day we were talking together, me & my 4 children. We talked about the world before they were born. It amazed them and they laughed a lot.

    I also mentioned about old mobile phones, and how it was “….as big as a 1 litre Fanta bottle”. They laughed again. But my youngest, Kaitlyn, was thinking instead.

    Then she asked, “So, there was no mobile phone back then….?”

    Me & the older kids went into roaring laughter. Tears were coming down our cheeks…

    But, all of them were equally amazed when I showed them a Payphone. “What is THAT ???”, they asked, confused.

    I hurted myself laughing at that day.

  • Bob Waldron

    Which begs the question, why have camera mfrs not yet implemented the ‘slide for next or previous’ capability?

    • Ester Brocha

      Olympus PEN cameras have that capability, but it’s annoying. Much easier to click left or right. The buttons are in the perfect spot for that.

  • My son found a disposable camera in a drawer at home.  I tried to explain that there was no USB connector on it, and you had to take it to the store and wait a week to see the pictures.  He couldn’t wrap his head around that.

    • Ester Brocha

      I introduced film cameras to my kids this summer. They are 5 and 7. I always carry a camera around, and they have my old digital that they use, so they were pretty surprised at this “new” development. They thought it was SO cool. Like, you don’t even need electricity to take photos. It’s magic! You put in film, press the shutter to open the lens, and wind the film till a clean space moves over to the lens.
      To them, anything is possible with technology. They don’t understand how it works, but they know it can do a myriad things that they can’t understand. But something working without electricity, that’s magic! I mean, they can understand it from start to finish. It’s so simple- how can it work? Must be magic. :)

  • These sorts of miscues could happen to anyone, based on one’s immersion. Back in the 80’s I started my career in computers and spent the majority of my day at a keyboard. So then at least a couple times, whenever I made a mistake dialing on a touchtone phone, I found myself instinctively looking for an “undo” button. It was over a decade later that I finally got a cellphone with a “backspace” key. I haven’t had a landline in almost 8 years now, and can imagine that kids nowadays would easily have the same puzzlement over a landline phone.

  • Elansunstar

    Will this bookever be in an audio formet Wish list!

  • Ester Brocha

    Seriously? Even my 7 year old is getting the hang of it. I remember when I was 9 (in 1993) and everyone in my 4th grade class knew how to tell time, and I wasn’t 100% sure. I was embarrassed. I don’t think analog clocks will ever go out. What do these girls wear as dressy watches? You can’t exactly wear a digital sports watch to a dressy event!

  • DesertSun59

    Let’s see.  I’ve been a computer networking guy for over 20 years.  I didn’t grow up with this tech and wasn’t particularly tech savvy growing up.  I merely found that the trend was going this way and entered the industry at EXACTLY the time it exploded onto people’s desktops in business.

    The dichotomy is this.  People 45 or older didn’t necessarily grow up with tech, but now they’re FORCED to interact with it.  People growing up with tech are simply entering a world where it exists.

    Before my generation there was no color TV.  I currently own a 3D 65″ flat screen TV. 

    Before my parent’s generation, there was no flouride in our water supply.  My grandparents didn’t have any of their original teeth.  I have all my teeth.

    Before my great grandparents were alive there were no cars.  Imagine the US with horse apples on EVERY SINGLE ROAD AND TRAIL in this nation.

    ETC.  ETC. It’s called PROGRESS.

    I deal with the generational issue daily in my job.  Older adults have little aptitude for virtual reality (interactive screens).  Younger adults do. The dichotomy expressed here in these comments is a generational one ONLY. I’m not in the least bit concerned about it – mostly because it makes me money. 

    All of us interact with the real world on a daily basis.  We still have to dress ourselves, eat food, drive a car and talk to others.  Until somehow we become the Borg, we will continue to think analog, talk analog, interact analog and BE analog.  We’ve simply converted much of our analog drudge into digital to make our analog selves live a better life.

  • Riaan

    My daughter, 4 years old asked me what a Bat looks like.  I said i will get a picture and show it to her.  She asked, On the internet?  I was dumbfounded and just said yeah, on the the internet. 

  • With the acceleration in technology we are creating a world that might be hard to understand for older generations. This was always true to a certain extent but was happening at a much slower rate. 

    Now technologies are coming of age or being developed that are mind boggling or hard to grasp (i’m thinking of 3D printing meat at the moment and memory erasing drugs, intelligent military drones, brain uploading). Given a set of similar technologies and within a generation say 25 years we’ll find ourselves living in a world that is harder to understand or worse completely alien to us but possibly ‘normal’ for our kids.

    But that may be just the tip of the iceberg. with computers becoming more powerful, there will be a time in the future that their intelligence will exceed that of humans and the rate at which innovation will take place would than start taking place at an exponential rate which is known as the technological singularity.

    I’m not saying it will be bad or good future, we just don’t know but eventually we’ll be more dependent and therefore more controlled by technology than the other way round, and unfortunately there may be no way to turn back the clock, in an orderly fashion at least.