As products and services becomes increasingly consumer friendly in a world dominated by technology, those who are digital natives becomes more comfortable but also get less exposure to real-time problem solving of prior generations. To counterbalance this issue, we need to intentionally introduce opportunities for kids to create not just consume technology.
When many of us were kids, the Nintendo was our go to gaming system. Just like today, the games and characters were family friendly enough for our parents to feel comfortable with us playing for hours without frequent check-ins.
The early Nintendo gaming system also was prone to overheating. In order to keep playing the game, you would have to take the game cartridge out blow on it while being careful to keep all moisture out. Once you were ready to restart, you would also have to rapidly cycle the cartridge up and down to cool down the gaming system. If you went to fast, the game would’t lock back into place.
In essence, kids were real time problem solving to keep the game play going. And, as they got better at cooling down the system, the length of the breaks between game play due to overheating would get smaller and smaller.
Modern day gaming it would be unacceptable for a gaming system to overheat after playing for any length of time. The current generation has the expectation that the gaming system will just work. While this is great for uninterrupted game playing, kids don’t get the opportunity to solve a problem that they are extremely passionate about in the moment.
As children, many of us would roam around the neighborhood looking for whomever was outside and that was who we would play with. When more friends came outside, the group would grow larger and sometimes we could incorporate additional activities.
The group of kids who grew up in my neighborhood was especially fortunate as we had a large forest preserve behind my house that we could escape to for hours. As we got older, we would ride our bikes through the trails and take in the beauty of nature that was all around us.
For the current generation of kids, their activities are largely scheduled at fixed places and fixed times. In order to make sure they arrive on time, many of them use the navigation software built into their phones. Or, their parents (us), us the mapping technology that is integrated into our vehicles.
Unfortunately, what this guidance does is eliminates the opportunity for us to real-time problem solve in order to get where we are going. When we were in the forest preserve and would come to a fork in the road, we would have fun with voting on which direction we were going to take.
Nowadays, you take the turn that is going to get you to the next activity fastest. This means that kids are losing the fidelity of decision making and consequences that come along with potentially taking the wrong turn and going out of their way. Or, learning that a certain street dead ends or has a cul-de-sac. Instead, our global position systems put our brains on auto pilot as we move from one destination to another. Once again, our kids don’t get an opportunity to practice something real time that is important to them in the moment - how do I get to my friends house? Or, how do we get to our next adventure?
Whether it’s listening to a favorite song or watching your favorite show or movie, media is something that has always been important to everyone, especially kids.
As a kid, we had to have patience for our favorite media. We had to wait for the radio station to cycle through to our favorite song in the rotation. And, our favorite shows only came on television on the same day at the same time. So, there was always a bit of anticipation.
When the technology improved, we figured out that we could keep a tape recorder with us in front of the radio and modify a cassette by breaking the tab to enable us to record our favorite song. And, if our family had an event, we could setup the VCR to record our favorite show. But, sometimes, we forgot to rewind the tape to the right spot and our show didn’t record at all. Or, we recorder 50-75% of the the show because our tape ran out of space on the back end.
In essence, we had ample opportunities to solve media problems that we’re extremely important (favorite song or favorite show) real time. For the current generation, their media is immediately at their fingertips. They can pull up their favorite song instantly on YouTube or Spotify. And, they can find their favorite show or movie on Netflix or Hulu.
Not only is the exact song or the exact show immediately available. But, the version is a perfect digital version that always plays with no skips until the end with no loss of quality. Kids nowadays have it really good. On the other hand, they don’t know the frustration of a tape recording of their favorite song not working. And, they aren’t learning how to better constrain future problems because everything they want and need is available on demand.
While we have experienced a dramatic increase in the consumerization of tech for kids, I think we still have an opportunity for the next generation to engage in a way that will teach them the creative problem solving skills the need to be successful going forward. Education technology and the associated platforms have created ways for kids to create not just consume technology. Scratch, Tinkercad, Lego EV3, Piskelapp, Construct, Roblox, and Minecraft are great ways for kids to build games, animations, robots, 3D models and modifications that will allow them to struggle with technology in a way that consumer facing products and services do not. Although the consumer products have certainly made things easier, let’s balance that journey with things that kids are going to be challenged with so they can build their problem solving muscles.