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Robert Pearson

Accessible Media

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Redefining Technology

How do parents gauge technology’s impact on their children’s learning and play? Robert Pearson weighs in as a parent as well as a digital media expert and concludes that we need to rethink our conceptions of what technology is.

There are certain experiences that every child should have as they grow up. Perhaps it’s a traditional perspective of a parent wanting for their child the same childhood memories that they cherish, but it also encourages an understanding of where we came from. For today’s digital generation, the experiences of play, learning and communications are mediated largely through devices. In this post, I would like to focus specifically on our experiences with technology and the difference between my interactions with technology some three decades ago and my daughter’s today.

To play with an iPad is a special treat for a child; it's a distraction tool, a means of entertainment and learning, and I have seen first-hand how the ‘screen’ and its pings, lights and easy touch can physically calm a child in distress. Come to think of it, the treats I enjoyed as a child of the 70s, including board games, radio and books are also products of technology. Everything from crayons to a football is a technological advance made possible due to scientific breakthroughs and inventions. Yet, you will never hear someone classify these “treats” as “technology” or technologically advanced.

Children playing video games

It’s therefore incorrect to lump only digital devices under the umbrella of technology and one must remember that the term ‘technology’ is not a synonym for ‘gadgets’, but is an inclusive term that embraces all our inventions. 

As a Director of Accessible Media Inc., I work with digital technology day in and out, and so, have first-hand knowledge of the intricacies of media platforms, be it television, music or radio. As a parent, however, everyday is a learning process for me to understand if a particular technology is good or bad for my daughter. Whether you take a sketch pen to drawing paper or use your index finger to draw on the screen of your tablet, both these things result out of technology, and the indiscriminate use of either is harmful for our children. Therefore, I cannot rule out either form of technologies for my daughter, without first understanding how she would make use of it.

When it comes to digital devices, some may point out that the interactive nature of computers and video games leads them to become addictive mechanisms for children. These digital gadgets are redefining the meaning of traditional children’s activities but wasn’t this the case when the radio and television were introduced several decades ago? It was a treat to watch a movie on TV and it was something for parents to be wary of as it was an unfamiliar technology, unlike any that had come before it. Technological advances and adoption are rather cyclical in nature: new technology more often than not faces resistance and is dealt with in a cautionary manner, where as the older technology continues to enjoy widespread appeal but slowly loses appeal as the new one gains ground.

I am a technologist myself and well-versed with forms of communication and interaction in the digital age. However, reading a paper or book before bed, running to the playground or simply having a picnic with friends are experiences that cannot be forgotten. With that in mind, one thing that I will ensure my daughter experiences is taking time to step away from digital and interactive technology entirely. Cut ties with the Internet and leave questions unanswered by Google, spark conversations and person-to-person social interactions, miss a phone call and return the message later, and experience nature and the world around us in a tangible manner, rather than through the interface of a screen.

The other day, my daughter and I found ourselves by the creek near our cottage, choosing stones by a bridge to toss into the water. She's too young at the moment to search for that perfect skipping stone, but we will get there. For now, though, it's just a matter of picking the stone that appeals to her the most, the perfect candidate, as I think of it. Certainly there will be an app for that one day, a stone skipping game app! But at every step of this learning and play, children will always need guidance to sort out the rules and learn the best features of the platform. That’s the best part of being a parent: we get to experience newer forms of play, all in the name of teaching children technology!


Related Resources

Blog: 2013 M-Enabling Summit Highlights: Accessibility Drives Innovation | Read full article

Publication: Making TV Accessible: The Canadian Experience - A G3ict and AMI Publication | Download Free PDF


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