Computers, Technology, and the Language of the Future


I was at Target the other day (buying a new broom, because my current broom was about a jillion years old and produced far more frustration than it did actual cleaning) and I overheard a conversation between a Target associate and a rather befuddled-looking older gentleman in the electronics department.    In a discussion that was somehow both sweet and amusing, the kid working at Target was trying to explain the concept of digital user manuals to the skeptical customer, who wondered why the item he was purchasing didn’t come with a paper manual.

“More and more companies are doing away with the paper manuals completely.”

Skeptical look.

“You don’t need them.  You can download the entire manual online.”

Skeptical look.

“Or, if you have a specific question about the product, you can just Google:  “How do I……….. ”

Skeptical look.

I didn’t stick around long enough to hear whether or not he was ever convinced, but it’s a conversation that I imagine takes place in various forms at Targets and cell phone stores and Best Buys every day, all over the world.

Life is just done differently than it was 50 years ago.  Even 20 years ago.  TEN years ago!

My dad, who’s in his late 60’s and is a very intelligent man, can use a computer to do basic things like send email….. but only if my mom helps him get to the “compose an email” screen first.

And when I last saw my 88 year old grandmother, she asked me to send her copies of some pictures I was taking.  “But you have to send them in the mail.  None of this air mail (aka email) stuff;  I don’t even know how to open it.”

Not that it’s unique to older people.  I’m 41, reasonably adept at handling a computer, and I still balk at learning something new.  I stayed on MySpace long after everyone else had fled to Facebook.  And now that Facebook is comfortable and familiar and I know how to use it, I’ll probably stay there too, long after everyone else has moved on to MeWe, or Ello, or whatever the Next Great Thing happens to be.

Learning new things technology-wise as an adult can be intimidating.  I get it.

But my kids don’t have that problem.  They’re so computer literate, and learn new platforms and programs and website navigation with such ease, that it’s both astounding and inspiring.

This is life in 2015.

We cannot be afraid of it.  This is education.  This is networking. This is communication.  This is the workforce. This is entertainment.  A whole big wide digital world at our fingertips.  We’re doing ourselves a huge disservice if we’re not allowing ourselves to take advantage of all – or much – of what it has to offer.

The world is only going to get more technology-heavy, not less.  My kids think it’s crazy that I remember my family’s first VCR.  And that if we wanted to watch a show that came on at 8:00 on a Friday night that we had to actually be at the TV at 8:00 on a Friday night.   And that early cell phones were about the size of a brick.  And that the internet didn’t even exist until I was in my 20’s.  And that there was no such thing as Netflix or Google or iTunes.

I can’t even imagine what amazingly cool technology – still just a pipe-dream of some go-getting entrepreneurial kid in his parents’ basement – is going to exist for my future grandchildren.

Life is different now.  We need to know about different things now.

Which is exactly why I can’t understand the push to actually limit a child’s use of technology.  I see parents stressing out about their kids spending enough time practicing things like handwriting, which is becoming less and less necessary;  or even hand-writing math problems, another practice that’s changing in our current society, since despite what your teacher may have told you as a child – look at that! – we all DO carry calculators around in our pockets.  In what I can only see as a stubborn refusal to move forward, people want to cling to the old, and only dole out the new in tightly controlled, highly restricted little portions.  But limiting a child’s “screen time” (which – it has to be said – is one of the stupidest and most meaningless phrases to come out of the 21st century) is sort of like planning an extended, indefinite stay in a foreign country, and then limiting how much and how often your children can study the language.

“Of course you can learn Spanish!  But only for a half an hour a night.  Maybe for an hour on the weekend.  You can earn an extra ten minutes a day if you do all your chores.  But if you screw up?  That’s it, I’m taking away all your Spanish time away until you can earn it back.”

I just can’t understand limiting access to the very language in which your child needs to be fluent.


As for me and my house, we’ve chosen the opposite tack.  Whether the subject at hand is Spain or computers, I want my kids to be able to completely IMMERSE themselves in it.  Play with it. Explore it.  Live it.  Learn it and learn from it and understand it.

I want my kids to be all in.  I want them to be eager learners, enthusiastic explorers, and lovers of new information.  I want them to be confident in their abilities, humble enough to ask for help when they need it, and brave enough to take on even the most daunting of tasks.

I want them to be primed and ready and raring to go, so that when the time comes for the next new overwhelmingly complicated bit of technological advancement (and that time will come… again and again and again) they’ll take it in stride.  They’ll be able to look square in the face of the next generation’s cell phone or email or digital User’s Manual….

and they won’t be afraid.

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Filed under parenting, technology, unschooling

8 Responses to Computers, Technology, and the Language of the Future

  1. Liarna

    Hey Jen, i have to say this isprobably the only subject i have a difference stance on. But i feel yoyr awise women andso id like to know you thoughts on the behaviour changes and difficulties with young children and ‘screen time’. I personally seea massive change in my two year old after being on the ipad and watching tv but im curious to see what others think? (Ps please excuse the spelling as ive cracked my screen and cant read the txt properly haha)

  2. You have such great analogies! I feel the same way. And I laughed when you pointed out, hey, we DO carry around calculators because my daughter has said the same thing.

  3. Lisa from Iroquois

    I enjoyed your post this morning but I am a little more hesitant about it than you. I have a nephew and a step son in their early 20s who can barely read the cursive writing of a birthday card greeting. Sad but true. I just completed my thesis and it consisted partly of transcribing a journal written (long hand) in the 1940’s. It is a task they would never be able to even attempt. It boggles my mind that we have come to a point where the ‘technology’ of hand writing will become the domain of specialists. But on the flip side of that same coin, my mother (20 years ago) retired from her job because they were bringing computers into her office and she did not want to learn how to operate them. Our world is changing but I don’t know that we should be so quick to abandon basic manual skills like writing by hand, cooking from scratch, sewing/mending and doing basic math. Though I do wish I was a little swifter on the uptake with these so called ‘intuitive’ computer gadgets.

    • jen

      Oh I’m definitely not suggesting we *abandon* those things! I love to write by hand (and cook from scratch and sew, craft, etc.) Not so much with the math personally. I’m an unashamed calculator user. 🙂 But the great thing about growing up today is that if you don’t have the natural proclivity towards handwriting for instance, there are so many other options for you out there! I’m a big fan of options. 🙂

      • Lisa from Iroquois

        I agree with you about options. I guess in a hundred years when handwriting doesn’t exist anymore you and I won’t be around to mourn it’s loss 🙂

  4. neversummer

    I couldn’t agree more. I have recently been being annoyed by another blogger who has been pointing out all the great things her toddler can do because they don’t allow any screen time. I always want to tell her that mine can do all those things plus anything she wants on her tablet, without any assistance from us. We want our children to be creators not consumers of technology. Children should be learning the how and why of it not just how to use face book and email. How can they do that on a limited allowance?

  5. “I want my kids to be all in”. I love that. Being able to immerse themselves in WHATEVER they are interested in has so many positive results, and I am so happy that I’m able to give my kids that opportunity. And that there are others out there doing the same thing.