Category Archives: commentary

Things Don’t Have to Change the World to Be Important

I’m not going to pretend like Steve Jobs held a special place in my heart before he passed—I probably saw more screen time of Noah Wyle in Pirates of Silicon Valley than of the actual man himself. But I read many tributes to Steve yesterday, and I became very moved. I stumbled upon this excerpt from 1996 hidden among his many other, more widely-known quotes:

“The problem is I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t. I’m sorry, it’s true.

Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much—if at all.

These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that.

But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light—that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.” [Wired, February 1996]

Will these technologies make your child smarter? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s not the point.

They offer an extraordinary gift of sharing, learning, and interacting. And little things like this—however humble or ambitious they may be—do matter! They matter because they can change *your* world.

Update (Nov. 23 2011): I just finished reading the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I am no less convinced that he was an extraordinary man, albeit a touch narcissistic. One of the things his wife, Laureen Powell, said in her interview struck me for this post: “Like many great men whose gifts are extraordinary, he’s not extraordinary in every realm. He doesn’t have social graces, such as putting himself in other peoples’ shoes, but he cares deeply about empowering humankind, the advancement of humankind, and putting the right tools in their hands.” This wonderful iPad journey is not just about *my* daughter and her progress, but also the implications for all sons and daughters in this next generation.


Scare Tactics Against Technology Integration

Gag Reflex

I recently read an article entitled “How to Make Your Baby Smarter.” Let me be clear: I have no agenda to make my baby smarter. I stumbled upon the article because I was searching for AAP recommendations on the limits of screen time for children.

I finished the article just seconds before throwing up in my mouth. Here’s why:

1. An article written in 2011 cites “studies” from pre-tablet era—heck, pre-interactivity era. This line in particular is a killer: “Studies show that there is no benefit to intelligence-building programming under the age of three, and Belilovsky calls them a waste of time.”

I asked the author of the article for a link to these studies (out of a sincere quest for insight), and her response (albeit prompt) was disappointing:

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to go back and find all the studies I referred to, but yes I believe they focused on TV, movies and “computer programs,” but they were likely before the tablet era.

2. Anatoly Belilovsky (the expert cited in the above quote) is a New York-based pediatrician who is authoring a book entitled, Parents should not trust development to intelligence-building toys or tapes. I don’t know the guy, so I have no comment on his work as a medical professional or an author. But it is book titles like these that encourage us to view technology and learning as mutually exclusive—or even dangerous! Must the concept of screen time always equate to a child zombie sitting in front of a television or computer, unattended? Belilovsky himself says children have little incentive to solve a puzzle or build a structure when left alone because the interaction [with caretaker] is what motivates the child. Yes! I agree, Belilovsky. But why is this interactivity praised when the puzzle comes in a cardboard box instead of a touchable, digital display?

I know: It’s because people make sweeping generalizations about intelligence-building toys and tapes.

<—————–Exit stage left: Mutual Exclusivity.

(Wait…did he say tapes? As in cassette? Really?…)

—————–>Enter stage right: Technology Integration.

Parents magazine lists 50 Simple Ways to Make Your Baby Smarter. By my count, 10 of those items could easily be done using an iPad; specifically, numbers 4, 11, 32, 34, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, and 47. For example,

#11: Joke around. Point to a photo of Uncle Frank, and call him “Mommy.” Then tell your child that you were being silly and laugh at your “joke” to build her budding sense of humor.

It doesn’t matter whether the photo of Uncle Frank is on paper or on a screen because the point of the exercise is to prompt interaction between the child and the parent. Technology integration [done well] is not clunky or competitive; it’s seamless and supportive! No stealing of thunder required.


So what did we cover?

1. I have unabashedly judged a book by its title. But writing about cassette tapes in 2011 is ridiculous. If that makes me an elitist, then I’m charmed to meet you.

2. A learning tool (digital or not) should not be a scapegoat for deficiencies due to lack of interaction from an educator. Otherwise, as this guy and this guy (and now I) say, “A teacher that can be replaced by a machine *should* be.”