#TBT: Babies Aren’t Magic

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Babies Aren’t Magic.

In a continuing series I’m now calling “Stuff People Have Been Saying for As Long As I’ve Been in the Internet Business,” I found this article about how little kids — I mean, really little kids — are so good with touch screens. Here’s a key tidbit:

"student ipad school," © 2012 Brad Flickinger, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Photo Credit: “student ipad school,” © 2012 Brad Flickinger, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

“Today’s kids are so completely at ease with navigating and flicking their way through my devices to get to the latest game on my smart phone or tablet … They just see Mom and Dad on their phones all the time, and they want to play, too.

This innate aptitude to easily use a touch-enabled device, with limited prior instruction, is not limited to personal computing. Touch screen televisions, ATMs and mall information kiosks are already part and parcel of our daily lives, and children are rapidly leap-frogging the older generations as they get to grips with the new interfaces.”

;alkkkkkkkkkjfadsfopppppppppppp Oh sorry, I fell asleep on my keyboard there because I think that’s the millionth time I’ve heard somebody say that “young people” are “so good at technology” in one way or another. Rapidly leapfrogging the older generations? You mean the ones that conceived, designed and built those interfaces? Or the ones that are buying and installing billions of the devices?

Naturally, I have a few thoughts:

1. Duh. What did you expect? That the technology of their own time would be hard for them to handle? This falls into the category of “stuff that we’re around all our lives seems normal and easy.” Aren’t you tired of this storyline yet? I bet there weren’t any stories about how baby boomers were “so good” at understanding televisions and record players when they were children.

2. The whole point of touch screens is that they’re intuitive. They’re what educators would call “manipulatives” because they work the way that physical objects do. Hey, did you hear that two-year-olds are also good at stacking blocks? Can you believe it?

3. It turns out adults are pretty good at using touch screens, too. Perhaps a better title for this article is “Everyone Finds it Easy to Use Touch Screens.”

4. Perhaps if there wasn’t so much talk about how hard technology is to use for people who weren’t born after it was invented, designers would have more of an incentive to assume that anyone could use it if it were designed right. It gives a lot of leeway to designers to avoid thinking about how to make things intuitive, and it intimidates people who are perfectly capable of using these things. Seriously, none of this stuff is hard to use if you give a damn to actually use it.

So that’s why I reject the idea that babies are magic and have somehow psychically bonded with tablets and touch screens through some mysterious and wonderful process, perhaps through instructions delivered on a worldwide public address system at a frequency no one over the age of 5 can hear. It doesn’t take many years of seeing this kind of story before you realize that the generation that “grew up with technology” is now the generation that “doesn’t get it.” It’s ultimately a silly, unthoughtful statement.

Now, the larger point of the article is not that babies are magic, but that the touch-screen interface is emerging as the dominant one in our lives. Fair enough.

I guess the first clue to that was the hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads that have been sold over the last several years. It doesn’t exactly take Scooby Doo to discover the clue to that mystery.

Got a comment or question? Join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.

Sign Up for Emails