The world is at our childrens’ fingertips; and they will change it

(Image by TurkleTom)

Several of my recent posts to this blog have been concerned with two sides of the same coin: the importance of science and technology skills to our societies and economies; and the importance of making technology and information consumable and accessible.

But this is the first time I’m putting those concerns to the test in the very act of writing my blog – which I’m doing using the iPad that arrived 3 days ago.

My last purchase from Apple – a company whose controlling approach to technology and media ecosystems I don’t admire – was a 3rd generation iPod; it’s now so unusually old that I’m often asked if it’s some strange *new* gadget. I was very unimpressed by the speed with which that iPod’s battery deteriorated, and by the impossibility of replacing it. So I needed some considerable persuasion to shell out several hundred pounds on an iPad.

That persuasion came from my 3 year old son. On the (very rare, if you’re my boss reading this) occasions that I work from home, I sometimes share my laptop screen with him. My side has my e-mail on it; his side has Thomas the Tank Engine on YouTube (he gets the better deal). Often when I launch a new window, it pops up on his side of the screen, obscuring whatever’s going on on Sodor. His immediate and instinctive reaction is to touch the screen and try to drag the obstruction out of the way.

(I heard an amazing corollary to this from a contact at Birmingham City Council yesterday – she’s seen her toddler drag her fingers apart on the surface of a paper magazine in an attempt to “zoom” the pictures in it!)

I’ve just written an article that repeats an often quoted though hard to source statistic that 90% of the information that exists in the world today was created (or more accurately recorded) in the last 5 years.

That made me think that: every fact in the world is literally at the fingertips of our children.

You can argue whether that’s literally true; and whether it’s equally true for all the children in the world (it’s clearly not); but there’s a deep and fundamental truth to the insight that suggests: however much we think the technologies we use today have already changed the world, it’s absolutely nothing compared to the utter transformation that will be created by the real “information natives” that our very young children will become.

That’s why I shelled out for an iPad this week. Love Apple or loathe them, they are creating technologies that offer us – if we explore and engage with them – a window into an important part of the future. And if we want to help our children, our schools, our businesses and our cities prepare for that future, then we had better do our best to get to grips with them ourselves.

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About Rick Robinson
I’m the Director of Technology for Amey, one of the UK's largest engineering and infrastructure services companies, and part of the Ferrovial Group. Previously, I was IBM UK's Executive Architect for Smarter Cities. You can connect with me on Linked-In and as @dr_rick on Twitter. The views expressed here are my own.

7 Responses to The world is at our childrens’ fingertips; and they will change it

  1. Andy Piper says:

    Well said, Rick. It’s just no good to deny change – “I don’t like the way Facebook changed the way that xxx works” “I don’t like touch screens” – get used to things – it’s not going backwards. Learn to be adaptable… just as children adapt rapidly, we need to make that a lifelong part of our behaviour.

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  2. Chris Wright says:

    Good post. I’d go further (than Andy) – I’ve had career stints in publishing, music, video and IT. Embracing change is absolutely the most important behaviour we exhibit. Across culture, politics, religion, failure to embrace change is to all intents and purposes suicidal.

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  3. rickrobinson says:

    Thanks for your comments; as if to reinforce the idea, The Economist ran an amazing article this week about another important new technology, 3d printing, and some amazing possibilities for the changes it could bring – well worth a read: http://www.economist.com/node/21553017

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  4. Murat Gunenc says:

    Great post.. with touch / interactive screens ” learning” will leap forward as well. Education and learning content seems to get free through the digital sources but also become playable where we can play and learn together. Truely exciting periods…

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