Give children complicated devices

Does everything need to be simple enough for a child or a grandmother to use?

Most things have a place. I’m sure there is a place for simple items. A needed one, that well-serves many. But more recently there is an emphasis on powerful without being complicated. Apple is the biggest perpetrator, capitalizing on “ease of use”. I quote that because it’s marketing, I’ve been far more frustrated (recently) by OSX than by Windows. But this isn’t about OSX/Windows, Apple, Google, Microsoft, or the rest. This is about bringing up children, and the effect it has on later life.

I was born in the 80s. When I was about 6 or 7, we got a pc. We weren’t rich, so all the PC’s I had for the first 13 years of my life were always a year behind, but still very usable. That first PC, what a treat! MS-Amy to learn a bit about words, but I soon passed that over. My memories recall Xtree, Xtree Gold, C:\, Basic, GWbasic, all at the age of 7. I know how to navigate a dos prompt with CD Directory, DIR, CD.., and what an EXE file was. I knew that, based on a timestamp, that Investor from Monday was different from the savegame of Investor dated Tuesday in Railroad tycoon. Though my father didn’t, I did. At age 7-8. Why? Because I had to know all those things in order to use the machine. Someone said, use cd directory to move to a folder, which is in some marks, and then cd.. to get back down one level. Then I remembered it. Indefinitely, now 15+ years later.

My little sister was born in 2004. She’s 6. She got on Mom’s computer the other day, and went “Where’s internet explorer?” – Mom only had Firefox and chrome, and my sister’s computer has all her bookmarks in IE8. Bookmarks she discovered and set by herself. We set her upon a single flash games site for kids, or one of the various other kids-friendly sites like disney or nick, and due to links from one site to the next, she discovered a whole treasure trove of hundreds of flash games and bookmarks across all these age-appropriate, girl-oriented sites. She was shown how once, remembered, and then continued doing it.

I know archaic computer commands, because they were needed to use a complicated device. My sister knows how to navigate a windows environment, and in a couple years she will be in the same situation I was all those years ago: fully knowledgeable of the system she works in. Now, which is more complicated?

Graphical systems are nice. They allow people to see and touch. Command based systems aren’t as pretty, but to me there isn’t any difference. I view files in list format, because it’s easier for me to skim titles, then to look at individual icon images. On my computer, that is. On my iPhone, I know where each icon is, and can identify each program by sight.

Again, what’s more complicated? The answer is obvious, the text-based one. Yet, it doesn’t bother me. It bothers those who never learned at a young age how to operate in a text format. Those who might be too old to learn a new way. But I ask, is there anything wrong?

It was out of necessity, but I learned how to operate a complicated device, like everyone else of my generation did, at a young age. When I hear comments saying “lets make this as simple and easy as possible, uncomplicated”, I cringe a little. Simple doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes I need to do something complicated, in a way that I learned. And I can just as easily operate the simple.

So lets not protect the children from the complicated. They will learn. They know already. The average 13 year old can do far more with a computer than you realize. When I was that age (or younger?), we were using word documents to access solitaire that the school administrators had deleted the links to and kept us from accessing the root directory to. But we knew: C:\windows\solitaire.exe – and that there was a way to launch programs through other programs. We were young, but we knew how to operate one of the most complicated devices of the times.

So please, think of the children. Don’t dumb down their devices so there isn’t a learning curve. A bit of a learning curve does them well. Only the times have changed. Not our intelligence as humans. At 8, I could do it. At 8, my sister will be able to as well. The format and OS and methods have changed, but the core ideas and complexity remain. We did, they will, get used to it, and be better, more educated, for it.

801 words I could have used in a novel.

About James Ashman

I write books of the fantasy, heroic, and adventure types. So far. I'm an author who loves fantastic stories.
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