Of Online Babies and Untied Laces


by Tim Moran

This may or may not be disturbing--I can't be sure.

When I was a kid, toys were simple and technology was rudimentary. What that really means, I think, is that kids were simple and rudimentary, too.

Consumer technology was only just beginning to take off with products like the tape cassette, the portable calculator, and the transistor radio--most tech was related to the "space race" and the Cold War. Mr. Potato Head and the Hula Hoop were among the top-selling toys. We rode bikes, played stickball, and collected baseball cards. We could not program in FORTRAN nor run a Bendix G-15.

Flash forward 50 years: According to a recent study by AVG, an internet security company, children are more likely to know how to navigate with a mouse, play a computer game and operate a smartphone than swim, tie their shoelaces, or make their own breakfast. Said AVG's CEO, J.R. Smith: "Technology has changed what it means to be a parent raising children today--these children are growing up in an environment that would be unrecognizable to their parents." Ya think?

Mothers of children aged 2 to 5 in the U.S., Canada, the EU, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand were given a list of tech skills and a list of life skills and asked which ones their very young children had mastered. Here are some of the key results of the survey:

• 58 percent of these children know how to play a "basic" computer game (44 percent of 2 to 3 year olds have this ability), but only 43 percent can ride a bike; • More kids aged 2 to 5 can run a smartphone application (19 percent) than tie shoelaces (9 percent). Almost as many 2 to 3 year olds (17 percent) can play with a smartphone application as can 4 to 5 year olds (21 percent); • More small children can open a Web browser (25 percent) than swim unaided (20 percent).

Another piece of AVG research, titled "Digital Birth," found, unbelievably, that most babies and toddlers have an online footprint by the time they are six months old.

When I was about 13 years old, my father brought home a television from work -- work being CBS, where he was a building operations supervisor. CBS was in the process of moving from 485 Madison Ave., it's corporate home for many years, to "Black Rock," at 52nd St. This particular black-and-white TV had been in the office of one of the executives. My father plugged it in, connected it to the antenna, and turned it on. We all marveled at the great picture on this monolithic device. Then the channels began to change by themselves--the dial actually moved--and we were agog. This, of course, was my father's little joke--he had the clunky remote control hidden behind his back.

Today my 8 year old knows how to program the HD-DVR better than I do. I guess I'm still simple and rudimentary.