Kids and Technology

I’ve got this little kid that drops by our house periodically.  He turned one year old the day before Christmas and a visit puts him in an environment with all kinds of stimulation.  There’s a toy box full of things.  Books, a hammer and plastic nails, a driving centre, a cow paddy, lots of balls, a basketball net, one of those annoying poppers when you run it along the floor, and a fire truck suitable for pushing.

Quite literally, the room is a playpen if you are so inclined.  There’s even a relatively new dog to annoy.

But, given free range, his attention goes to one thing.

My iPad.  Seriously.

I’m not going to use this as an excuse for my poor play on Words with Friends, but there’s one application among a number on the iPad that commands attention with every visit.  It’s Talking Tom Cat.  I learned about the Talking Tom Cat sitting in the back seat of @sadone‘s vehicle taking @ijukes and @angelamaiers to the airport after Symposium 2010.  Ian was still on fire after a full day of speaking and made sure that we were aware of this application.  Mental note – I need to download this.

Now, I was prepared to go as high as $0.99 for something like this and was pleasantly surprised that it was free.  After playing with the free version with this little guy, I did buy the extra animations for it.  The free version had this little piece of nagware that keeps asking if you want the upgrade and when little fingers aren’t careful where they’re tapping, you end up at the purchase screen anyway.

Now, when you look at the instructions for Talking Tom, I would have thought that you’ve got to be, oh, about 5 to master him.  You can pet him, poke him, pull his tail and pour milk and he responds to the actions.  It’s actually quite a bit of fun.  Even cooler, if you talk to Talking Tom, he parrots your voice back to you.  And, if you can’t talk yet, he’ll still do his best to repeat the sounds that you throw his way.  It turns out that I overestimated the age needed.

It’s enough to keep a one year old coming back, stepping over all the other toys, for another crack at him.  The actions are typical iPad.  Some are intuitive like poking him in the head but others like rubbing his belly aren’t.  Yet, for this one year old, he’s learned that these are the rules of the game and you have to follow the rules to play.  So, he’s learned the rules.  A visit isn’t complete without coming over to the iPad to play.

So, what’s with it?  As I look at the toy box, I see brightly coloured plastic reds, oranges, and yellows.  Despite all that’s there and there is quite a toy chest of booty, there’s still the lure of the iPad and Talking Tom.  The iPad itself is housed in a boring black case and so there’s nothing there that really catches the eye.  The only thing left is that somehow the interaction with the unit is firing on some cylinders that keeps him coming back.  I think of the thrill that I have as a computer programmer when I can make some a computer do what I want when I want.  It’s nice to see that thrill learned so early.

On the iPad, there are a collection of other applications that are downloaded and all geared up to put into play when the time is right.  I can’t help but think about four years from now when this little guy shows up ready for school.  He’s got his hands on technology already and is mastering it at his level.  He has access to technology at his home as well.  He’s growing up with it as part of his life.  Will he join an educational system that’s ready to embrace him?


links for 2011-01-24