Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Cursor is a Banana

While sitting at the dinner table the other night, my 5-year-old son looked at me and quite seriously told me: "My cursor is a banana."

Understanding every word he said, yet having no clue as to what he meant, I looked across the table at him and asked: "What?" to which he responded: "Yes, my sister helped me do it."

Still not understanding what he was saying, I asked him to show me.

He then pointed to the computer we have in our kitchen and said: "My sister helped me make my cursor into a banana."

I immediately understood that he and his sister had changed one of the "themes" of his computer login so that the various icons and colors now had a fruit and vegetable look and feel. And, indeed, the cursor is now a banana.

This started me thinking about what I talked about with my father when I was five years old.

For starters, the only "cursor" I knew of was people who needed their mouths washed out with soap.

But I started thinking about how different our children's lives are than ours. Here are a few items:

  • Children today don't know of a life without the Internet. It's just "there" and is as much a part of their home life and education as food, books and clothing.
  • Entertainment is now on demand and plentiful. With hundreds of television channels and the ability to watch what you want when you want, it's quite literally impossible to consume all of the content that they want.
  • Libraries are vastly different. They're no longer a place you go to do research. Not only is the entire Internet a library of sorts, but our traditional libraries are evolving into community centers.
  • Instant gratification is the norm. My children now expect that when we take a photo or video, they can see it immediately. The idea of taking film to be processed and receiving it back a few days later is foreign to them.
  • Music may never actually be handled other than on a device that plays it. Specifically, our children may never hold a record or even a Compact Disc. The idea of a record "skipping" is not part of their lives.
  • They will always be able to make a phone call wherever they are.
  • Terrorism is a domestic issue, and 9/11 occurred during the lifetime of most of our children.

As I watch my children and the children in my life, I'm glad to see that they do share some of the same experiences, such as:

  • Nobody needs to tell a child to put pitted olives on their fingers;
  • Jumping in a leaf pile still gives great joy;
  • Balls for every sport mean instant fun; and
  • A large cardboard box can still be a spaceship, fort, house, boat or any other adventure.

As much as I want my children to have some of the same experiences I did, it's clear to me that their lives will be vastly different as a result of the changes in technology. In many ways, their experiences will be richer. In other ways, I think they'll miss out on some important lessons.

Luckily, the lessons of humanity are what really count. I hope that all children can balance technology and humanity as they grow up. It's an exciting road to travel with our children.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 27 October 2010.
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