I keep hearing over and over how kids these days are 'wired differently' than the 'digital immigrant' generation. Because they were born 40 years later than their parents, their genes have somehow mutated to allow them to be comfortable with technologies like the iPhone, iPad, modern computers, and video games.
Well, I call BS!
With my limited understanding of genetics and developmental biology, the idea that kids these days are somewhat different the moment they are born makes absolutely no sense. I will concede that I am no expert in the matter and will defer to anyone with appropriate credentials AND evidence to the contrary. But for the meantime, let me elaborate on my point.
There are two problems with the idea that kids are born with brains prepared to use digital devices.
1. It doesn't fit what we know about biology.
2. The comparison is being made to children who grew up over 40 years ago WITHOUT the ubiquitous technology we have today.
My argument is that rather than human beings adapting at an impossibe rate to technology, new technology has actually changed to become more natural for humans to use.
Human brains today are still genetically programmed to "solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor environment, and to do so in nearly constant motion." (Brain Rules, pg. 31-32) The human genome has not changed in tens of thousands of years, and does not change on a broad scale within just a couple of generations. Children born today are just as capable of picking up a rock or interacting with an iPod as those born in the 1920s. The main difference is that those flappers-to-be were never introduced to the digital devices that babies are now exposed to within the first few years of life.
Those who claim to be of the digital immigrant generation do have a disadvantage. They were conditioned and trained over 10-20 years to use technology that is counter intuitive. It's no wonder they are confused by the simplicity of touch devices.
In an article on gaming user interfaces, by Tim Rogers, a perfect analogy is described. When Apple, aided by Xerox research and followed by other PC manufacturers, produced the first computer mouse, it had a clickable button. Windows PCs soon provided 2 – and even up to 6 – buttons on their mouse enabling the user to perform different tasks with different buttons. For years, a common complaint against Apple computers is that the mouse only has one mouse button, preventing the user from performing a right-click (the ignorance here is actually astounding since Apple has provided an alternative to the right-click for many years via software and key commands, but that's beside the point). As if to infuriate it's users even more, the newest Apple laptops actually ship without any button on the trackpad. But as Tim explains, "It's not a mouse with no buttons—it's a mouse with a million buttons." The Multi-Touch trackpad on the new MacBooks is a larger glass surface below the keyboard, every square centimeter of which can be used as a button, whether by physically clicking or simply tapping with one or more fingers. Not only that, but finger gestures can control the operating system in a number of different ways – swipe two fingers up and down to scroll through a long document, or pinch all five fingers together to see all of the applications you have installed. By getting rid of the button that long time users have grown accustomed to, Apple has introduced new ways to control and navigate their computers.
And think about it, touch control is much more natural than a button. Where else in life do we have to touch a specific part of a device to get it to work, other than poorly designed technology? When you pick up a rock to throw it, you do not have to hold a command key. To draw drapes closed, you do not have to grab them by the bottom left corner instead of the right. In our physical world we can touch any part of an object to interact with it. But that wasn't so with digital devices until the multi-touch interfaces were developed. Now on an iPad or Android tablet, the entire device serves as input and output, just like every other physical object in nature.
Young children have very adaptable minds. They have no preconceived notions of how things 'should' work but simply enjoy exploring their world to discover how things work. Adults, on the other hand, have been conditioned over many years to follow procedures which aren't always natural. Consider shutting down your Windows computer by first clicking the Start menu. Or how about the Qwerty keyboard which was actually designed to slow typists down? Adults get stuck repeating patters even though there is often a simpler way (typing apple.com into the address bar, for instance, instead of searching for Apple on Google, then clicking twice to get there). Young minds are free to learn new ways of doing things whether it is crawling, walking, speaking a language, or playing Angry Birds.
It just doesn't make any logical sense to claim that babies born today are wired differently than their great-grandparents were when they were born.