Chris is an engineer, thinker, and philosopher who enjoys exploring futuristic ideas and technology.
As humanity forges ahead into the future, it's clear to everyone that we are becoming more and more reliant on technology for our everyday living. This especially includes computers as well as communications and internet technology. But what kind of an effect does this have on our children? You see and hear so many stories about children who spend their days glued in front of a screen. Whether they are obsessively watching YouTube, clicking away at some computer game, or just watching old school television shows, children are increasingly absorbing themselves into technology.
Everyone has an opinion on this subject. Many experts recommend limiting or restricting children's screen time and their use of technology significantly. Even Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, is said to have strict rules regarding his children's use of technology (Weller, 2018). Much can be, and has been, written on the negative effects of technology on a child's growth and brain development. However, this article will not focus on these topics. Instead, I'll take a different perspective and attempt to show that A) Technology is simply a logical progression away from past forms of traditional play, and that B) Children's use of technology is important in preparing them for a future of technological dependence.
The Decline of Traditional Toys
The relationship between the traditional toy and electronic games is inversely proportional. As quickly as computing power and the propagation of electronic games has grown, the rate of use of traditional toys among children has declined. Toys and games like Barbie and Hotwheels are trading face time with children for electronic games and media. Most parents would likely agree that they desire for their children to play outdoors more often and to use creative, educational toys rather than spending their time with video games and Youtube. However, it seems that technology has taken over as it's been reported that many children spend more than 18 hours a week in front of screen. This is, of course, despite parents' best efforts to limit how much time children spend with technology (Anderson, 2017).
Rise of Video Games and Interactive Media
One of the concerns with excessive screen time is that parents' believe that this is not a constructive or educational use of time. However, immersion in technology, at least with the right type of technology, can actually be good for a child. This is of course if it is managed in moderation. In addition, one could certainly argue that there is a big difference between watching TV or Youtube and playing a fully immersive game that requires you to think and make decisions. Certain video games and interactive technology can actually provide a way for children to learn and explore a virtual world in addition to providing entertainment value.
Creativity in a Digital World
The fundamental skills that children can learn in a virtual world are often very similar to what they might learn when they play with physical toys. Building toys, such as blocks and those famous plastic bricks that stick together, are often seen as the epitome of creative, educational toys for children. When children play with these and similar toys, they use their hands to physically construct the things that they envision in their mind. They can build anything that they can think of including buildings, vehicles, and landscapes. Children playing in this capacity are only limited by their imagination.
Just like how playing with traditional toys encourages growth and creativity, so too can the right kind of interactive electronic games. In a virtual world, like those of Minecraft and Roblox, children can accomplish the same things that physical building toys can while using a touch screen, keyboard, and mouse instead of their hands. Minecraft is famous for its infinitely variable environment that exists with no real endgame. It's an open world with a mission that pushes the gamer to create and build things that all players can interact with. Moreover, virtual worlds such as these can even offer more creative possibilities that would otherwise be impossible with physical toys in the real world.
Preparation For a Future with Technology
In many ways, interactive electronic games are preparing our children for a future in which technology rules the world with an iron fist. You cannot keep up with society if you ignore the capabilities and advantages offered by computers, smart phones, and the internet. Technology is has changed the world forever and it's here to stay. Success in the future will be highly dependent on the use of technology.
Most of the jobs that our children will one day get will be in technology related fields. And for those children who find jobs elsewhere, it's highly likely that their career choice will still find them relying on and working with new technology. All of today's jobs are becoming more and more reliant on technology. Many existing career pathways will disappear due to automation and, as much as 85% of the jobs that our children will one day work in that don't even exist yet (Tencer, 2017). Even the most entry level jobs of the future will require a symbiosis between man and machine.
Going From Interactive Gaming to Engineering and Design
Aside from getting familiarized with the use of technology in everyday life, another advantage of playing with creative electronic games is that it can help prepare a child for a future career in an engineering or design related field. Nowadays, design software, computers, and technology are being used extensively to design the world of tomorrow. Computer Aided Design (CAD), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, as well as many other technologies are being using to create and visualize a modern, built environment. Being able to use and understand these types of design software is becoming increasingly essential in all engineering fields.
What better way to introduce children to a love of design than with interactive games like Minecraft? When introducing children to these types of games, it can foster a love for design and engineering in very much the same way that play with traditional construction toys have done in the past. In its most basic form, interactive computer games are really just a modern manifestation of traditional game play with physical toys.
If our children are not exposed to technology, how will they be able to cope with a future that depends on it? The rate of technological change is so rapid that learning and understanding how to use technology will only become more challenging in the future in unless you are exposed to it at a young age. Of course, I'm not advocating that children spend more time in front of screen just "vegging out" (as my father used to say). However, I do believe that it is our job as parents to monitor children's use of technology, to limit it when necessary, and to encourage them to play with games that can have a positive impact on their life and future.
Anderson, Jenny. Quartz. "A Study of Kids' Screen Time Explains the Vicious Cycle That Makes Parents Unable to Say No." August 1, 2017. <https://qz.com/1042581/a-study-of-kids-screen-time-explains-the-vicious-cycle-that-makes-parents-unable-to-say-no/>
Tencer, Daniel. The Huffington Post. "85% of Jobs That Will Exist in 2030 Haven't Been Invented Yet: Dell." July 14th, 2017. <https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/07/14/85-of-jobs-that-will-exist-in-2030-haven-t-been-invented-yet-d_a_23030098/>
Weller, Chris. Business Insider. "Bill Gates is Surprisingly Strict About His Kids' Tech Use." January 14th, 2018. <http://www.businessinsider.com/how-bill-gates-limits-tech-use-for-his-kids-2018-1>
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Christopher Wanamaker