The latest “isn’t technology amazing how it changes children” video meme has been doing the round on the interwebs. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out above. It is a video of a one-year-old girl who has been allowed to use an iPad; we then get footage of her trying to use multitouch gestures on a magazine. The video is a fine example of a young child’s fine motor skills in mid development, but the claims made by the uploader of the video demonstrates our limited understanding of user experience design, the significance of the multitouch gesturing that Apple is so fiercely protecting at the moment and why anyone developing media and tools for children in this space should learn about early childhood development.
The incorrect claim made accompanying the video is this:
Technology codes our minds, changes our OS. Apple products have done this extensively. The video shows how magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives. It shows real life clip of a 1-year old, growing among touch screens and print. And how the latter becomes irrelevant. Medium is message.
Apple technology has not coded this child’s mind, nor changed her OS (which I assume is her brain or neural networks). This child is using her developing fine motor skills to explore her world. You see, she did not learn to touch, pinch and swipe from the Apple device – I’m sure Steve Jobs would not have claimed his company’s devices could be that instrumental in changing developmental behavior in children. The fine motor skills we see in operation are the fine motor skills that all children attain and improve across their early development, we have been required to touch, swipe and pinch our thumb and index fingers together long before the first iPhone arrived on the market.
So, the cleverness of the user experience design is not that the iPad changes the girl, but that it leverages off fine motor skills that are so integral to our ability to engage with the world that a one year old can begin to engage with a touch screen (not completely successfully, because there is still some further development of those fine motor skills to go). And that fact is still worth sitting back in awe of, that is an amazing piece of user-centered design which I believe contributes to that sense of play or fun that people have referred to about using the iPad or other touch screens.
There is one thing to consider though: parents and early childhood professionals have been encouraging fine motor skills through activities like rolling play dough into balls, picking up small objects like Lego bricks or small wooden blocks, or tearing paper, cutting on pre-made lines and patterns teaches forming correct size and shape. Linking materials such as Lego bricks, Unifix Cubes, lacing and stringing activities encourage hand-eye coordination and color patterning. Using pegs, stickers, and flipping cards teach placement of objects.
The real question is not about whether magazines will mean anything to children, but what role touch technology will play in developing or impacting on the development of those skills, how it will shape fine motor expectations and change strengths and abilities and just what it means for the future. There will be both positives and negatives, benefits and implications, but what is important is that we watch and learn from it and respond in ways that support children’s development. This is far more important than tweeting a video of a baby and claiming the revolution is complete.