This article was published on March 17, 2012

Baby got tech: Today’s children growing up in a world of gadgets

Baby got tech: Today’s children growing up in a world of gadgets
Jamillah Knowles
Story by

Jamillah Knowles

Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemi Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemimah_knight or drop a line to [email protected]

I’m not the cluckiest hen in the coop and nor do I have children, so you’d be unlikely to find me cooing over babies in Nappy Valley. However, lately I have changed slightly and it’s children’s interaction with technology, as usual, that is leading the way.

A quick straw poll this week showed me that many of you also find that your kids are intrigued by computing. So was I, when I was maybe seven, but your tiny prodigies are now exposed to new technologies much earlier as the following examples prove.

To start with The Next Web family has many young ‘interns’ and it’s not surprising that with tech writing parents, they get to try new things.

That’s Matt Brian junior, just making a call to his broker. You can see there that the gestures are already well practised; one hand to steady the machine and one finger poised for swiping through to the NASDAQ and checking the latest global headlines.

What’s yours is mine

The mobile device appears to act as a pacifier in more than one way though. If you can handle your spotless touch screen getting covered in slobber, you may find that the form factor is precisely the right shape for teething tots. (We don’t recommend this as a use case.)

Bryony Stewart-Seume is in London and her 8 month old daughter Lily has taken to mobile technology in particular as you can see here:

“She has been teething almost as long as she has been alive, but still no teeth. We have bought her several things that baby books tell you help, but she doesn’t know what to do with any of them.

My phone is normally by with me and she is fascinated by it. She knows which button to press to make the screen light up, and she will do this incessantly. It is just the right depth for her mouth, and as the edge of the screen isn’t totally smooth she rubs it on her gums.

Thankfully she doesn’t do it long enough to warrant protection for the phone, but it does make a mess of the screen. I doubt it is particularly hygenic, but I let her because it obviously does some good. And she needs an immune system boost.

As an aside, I was reading through the developmental milestones that are followed by her nursery for her age; one is to do with engaging with technology. I thought that was pretty cool.”

After recoiling at the thought of anything eating my phone, I realised there is also a large difference between people who have kids and those who do not. As a parent, all your base are belong to your kids too, so being precious about technology sounds like an ongoing battle.

It seems that experienced parents are accustomed to this arrangement. Y. Konstantakopoulos on Twitter told me, “My son is almost 6 months old and he loves his iPhone 3G. It used to be my old phone, now it belongs to him. It’s been a month or so. He likes music and YouTube.”

Far away, so close

If you had family overseas as a child, you may be able to cast your mind back to those times where you breathed heavily down a crackly line to your grandparents or aunts and uncles. It was tricky. You had no visual focus and being on the phone at a young age, you’d be distracted by the space around you rather than tuning in on their call.

These days kids can see their family over Skype or other video call programs. Here’s the Brian family talking to the folks further afield on an iPad:

With technology happening so naturally around us, it’s not a surprise that Matt’s brood are not as amazed as we are with video chats on an object smaller than a breakfast box. They have not climbed the curve that we have to get to this wonderful place, so it’s much easier to take it for granted. Portal with Grandad on it? Yeah, no biggie.

Tiffany Baker lives in Australia and she has a 10 month old son. He uses Skype, under supervision, and is also clued into the TV. She says, “He enjoys Skype, I think because he can see himself as well as the other person.” Compare this with our generation, I had a 72 vinyl record (as your parents) that had a recording of my Aunt and cousins on it and our own Jon Russell remarked, “When I lived in Asia my grandma used to send me cassettes…all change.”

New cultural icons

Another change that comes with new technologies is the love of new characters. When I grew out of Beatrix Potter books (maybe not entirely) and took to television, the space legend Ulysses 31 and his intergalactic adventures ruled my mind, along with the slapstick antics of the Warner Brothers animations.

Though I have yet to meet a toddler who is not friends with Thomas the Tank Engine, there are new icons in the creche. Can you see who Robin Wauters’ nipper is playing with here?

That’s right, your commuter friendly pigs and birds have not only conquered space with NASA, but they’re also popular with munchkins too.  Jim lives in London and has experienced the take over of Rovio’s famous feathered friends,

“Being a gadget lover, it’s perhaps no surprise that my two young boys consider using consoles, tablets, smartphones and laptops to be the household norm.”

“Occasionally elements of the games they play on those devices creep into reality. My youngest son – now three – spends much of his time recreating Fifa 12 goalscoring celebrations, swinging his arms wildly and sliding to his knees on the kitchen floor.”

“My favourite moment of all happened about a year ago when I was reading him a bedtime story about farmyards. I pointed to all the animals, and he told me what they were. Then I pointed to a hen: “What’s that?” I asked. “An Angry Bird” he said. It was at that point we started more strictly regulating usage of the gadgets.”

Smartphones with high colour graphical interfaces clearly attract ankle-biters as much as they delight us, but I’m not so sure that they are bothered with the retina display. This could mean that kids have it right when it comes to technology, they want it to work quickly and they don’t want the battery to die while they are using it.

Maybe the views of children should form more of our future gadget design.

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