It’s not about what you know; it’s about what you’re prepared to learn. And the people that are prepared to learn the most, as they have ever been, are children.
A generation is said to be 12 years. About the time it takes for a child to develop a concrete understanding of the world and roughly the time it takes for the human race to fully adopt and assimilate a technological change.
Perhaps this is why our children are able to pinch, swipe and tap with the digits of a master. Children have always been the masters of what is new and playful.
Children of the 80s will recall the VCR. We had a Sony Betamax C5. It was big and silver with a bedazzling and complex array of buttons. There were 9 in total. Including Pause, FF, RW and yes, Play. To the utter amazement of our parents, we were able to navigate this technological marvel and not only work out how to connect it to the TV but also how to set it to record Dallas when we weren’t even at home.
Our parents were in awe, perplexed and excited by this cumbersome device that made time travel possible. My mum describes is as an emotion edging toward fear but perhaps best described as domestic reverence. And we, us kids, were the conductors, the teachers, the VCR operators that embraced this brave new world and took it all in our stride. How could the children be so clever?
And the same fallacy is true today... we seem to think that children understand the technology: “they’re so good with computers” and “they know more about the internet than I do” and “they grow up so much more quickly than in my day” are the common refrains. They don’t. They’ve not developed a third "tech-eye" overnight. Evolution takes a little longer than a generation; our brains have been more or less the same for 150,000 years and the arrival of the iPad has not yet been deemed a Darwinian event.
The fact is we (wrongly) consider children so much more adept with technology today because we, us adults, need to understand how something works. You and I are all grown up and have experiences, knowledge and preconceptions against which we must measure the new things we discover. And when we don’t immediately understand what our measurements are telling us we say something like “Oooh, that’s so clever” and that fear tinged reverence slips into our consciousness and we let the children lead the way.
As adults, we’re often scared of doing something totally new or we’re stuck in doing the same thing we’ve always done and just don’t want to change it. Can’t be bothered most of the time.
Children don’t need to know how something works. They need to know how to use it. They don’t need to understand the industrial design and mechanics of a toy robot, they just need to be able to play with it. They’ll give it a go and if it’s a good toy they’ll use it. If it’s a bad toy they won’t. But they will give it a go.
Play is said to be a child’s work. And we’re often told to be more playful and childlike in our work. So, when we’re faced with change or something we don’t know, maybe we should take our lead from those less experienced than ourselves. Just give it a go and see what happens.
However, present a Betamax C5 to a child today and they will be a perplexed as their grandparents were 30 years ago - and I think there is some real humanity in that.