I was struck by Maryanne Wolf’s “Learning to think in a Digital Word.” Her essay brings to light the new trajectory many children and teenagers find themselves on. The exchange of laptops for traditional notebooks and blogs for diaries have fundamentally changed the way we think and learn. Fair enough. Honestly, I think this is a great phenomenon. Our children have become so entwined in the digital age that almost everything they do is tied to technology in some way. I understand Socrates’ initial fear of literacy; easy access to knowledge may prevent people from asking the vital questions that help solidify the journey to personal wisdom and growth. However, just as his opposition to widespread literacy seems futile, opposition to young people’s involvement in the digital age may seem unfounded in the future.
When I think about the changing nature of young people and the digital age I think of my 6-year-old cousin Piper. The first time I met Piper she was only three. Helping her mom pick me up from the airport, she was as cute as could be in her little car seat. As we made the long trip from the airport to their house, Piper became restless. What did she turn to? Technology. Within minutes Piper had reached into her mom’s purse, pulled the iphone and unlocked it so she could play her favorite game. Seamlessly, she colored and played her favorite song. I was amazed. Before that moment I had never even seen an iphone. I couldn’t believe that my technological prowess was being rivaled by a three year old.
At the age of three or even six it is impossible to know whether this little girl will take in everything she learns from the Internet and not question. However, the odds are in her favor. Even if she starts off believing everything she finds out on the Internet, as she grows older I am sure this paradigm will shift. How many children look at the world through beady eyes and expect everything to be just as they see it? Lots! It’s part of growing up – discerning which sources are credible and which are not. Almost every two year old believes everything told to them – they have no reason not to! Just as maturity and learning experiences teach children to question the world around them, these very same mechanisms will encourage them to question the Internet as well. What we must realize is that these children are growing up with technology. In some ways it’s becoming fundamental to their learning process. In my experience digital knowledge has enhanced the learning process for children not hampered it. Must children have honed in on their literacy skills before they become immerged in the digital world? Honestly, my hope is that children will be able to learn digitally and conventionally simultaneously. Why not?