Watching a 3-year-old manipulate a smartphone or a like item such as an iPad is both an amazing and saddening experience. What took people like myself (I’m 31) months and even years to master, a 3-year-old raised with this technology can seemingly master it in a matter of months.
For people older than myself, like my parents, the task of operating an iPhone or iPad effectively took significantly longer. My own father, rapidly closing in on his mid-60s only recently purchased his first iPhone in the last year or so and although his proficiency has progressed nicely given his age, he’s been technologically savvy for most of the internet-era (he was an Al Gore fan, duh) and gained competency on the iPhone relatively fast. My mother, on the other hand, who is now just an eyelash shy of 60, has had a steeper learning curve with her iPhone and although she’s owned one longer than my father, she is just now coming into full-on mastery of the device after probably close to four years of ownership.
Recently my 81-year-old grandma purchased her first ever smartphone. After 81-years on earth, it was finally time to have a means of communication consistent with the century she’s living in. However, the learning curve for an 81-year-old with a new smartphone is approximately in the same range of the competency spectrum as a gorilla learning Cantonese or an inebriated man at open mic night exercising any type of realistic restraint. In short, it’s a steep curve…comparable to the one she probably walked, barefoot, uphill, both ways, during a blizzard.
By comparison, my 3-year-old son operating his iPad and my 81-year-old grandmother operating her new smartphone are not that far apart on the learning spectrum of modern technology. Although the rapidity by which one learns far outpaces the other, the current state of smartphone proficiency between the two is as close as it will ever come to being even, with the advantage tilting more each day in favor of the 3-year-old.
As a fun example of a particular niche of smartphone usage, please refer to the below text messages, one formulated by my 3-year-old while monkeying with the text function on my phone, and the other a legitimate message from my grandmother in response to some pictures I sent her. The resemblance is uncanny.
While they’ve both strung together some nice words, the 3-year-old actually typed more dictionary-legitimate words while the grandma typed a letter, a word, and a period, perhaps as an indication that the incoherent text message was complete. Autocorrect certainly factors in for the 3-year-old although he managed to slip in a ‘7’ which is lucky and the word ‘skin’ which is not at all creepy. The grandma, on the other hand, still in the infancy of her smartphone pilgrimage, is forgiven for her duo of messages consisting of just a letter, a word, and the punctuation symbol typically used to end a sentence.
There is little doubt that both will improve on this initial performance almost instantly, however it will be the 3-year-old, with his rapidly developing cognitive function, who grasps the finer points of iPhone usage more quickly. At this exact stage, however, their abilities with technology are remarkably similar.
As mentioned at the outset, there is a component of sadness in all this. While certainly a 3-year-old learning to use an iPhone will progress far more rapidly that an 81-year-old, they’ll forever be bound to the crutch of technology for executing even the most rudimentary functions of life. Even I as a 31-year-old can distinctly remember a time before the internet and still I struggle to complete literally any professional assignment without heavily leveraging technology. If the wifi in my office goes out, everyone may as well just go home, because no work will be done…literally none.
My grandma, by comparison, has lived the vast majority of her natural life executing both life and job functions without any such advantage. There is no utility in her learning to use an iPhone in what is likely the final decade of her life. Her incentive for proficiency in such a device is virtually nothing and is entirely based on novelty. For my young son, however, his future ability to communicate and perform meaningful learning or work will be hugely facilitated by his competence in searching, finding, learning, and recalculating data on a screen.
It makes one wonder what sensory experiences we unknowingly sacrifice every day simply due to our reliance on technology. Whatever it is, it’s only worse as each day passes. At least at this point my son still prefers the outdoors and physical interaction to his screen but at times even he, just three years into existence, needs a nudge and a reminder. And that in itself is quite unfortunate.