Kevin Kelly:

My friend had a young daughter under 5 years old. Like many other families these days, they have no tv in their house, but do have has lots of computers. With his daughter he was visiting another family who had a tv, which was on in another room. The daughter went up to the tv, hunting around it, and looked behind the tv. “Where’s the mouse?” she asked. 

Another friend had a barely-speaking toddler take over his iPad. She could paint and handle complicated tasks on apps with ease and grace almost before she could walk. It is now sort of her iPad. One day he printed out a high resolution image on photo paper and left it on the coffee table. He noticed his toddler come up to up and try to unpinch the photo to make it larger, like you do on an iPad. She tried it a few times, without success, and looked over to him and said “broken.” 

Another acquaintance told me this story. He has a son about 8 years old. They were talking about the old days, and the fact that when my friend was growing up they did not have computers. This fact was perplexing news to his son. His son asks, “But how did you get onto the internet before computers?”

Kelly says he draws two lessons from these stories: “if something is not interactive, with mouse or gestures, it is broken. And, the internet is not about computers or devices; it is something mythic, something much larger; it is about humanity.” I have no idea what that second sentence means, but as to the first one, I wonder: is Picasso’s “Guernica” broken? Is an old leather-bound copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets broken?

Cute and interesting stories, but what they mainly tell is that children are amazing generalizers: they make a wide range of assumptions based on their experiential history. Some of those turn out to be true, some not so true.

Text Patterns

April 25, 2011


  1. My nieces say the tv is broken when the commercials come on. They call and ask me to come and fix it (fastforward the DVR). I am not sure in that case they are not right.

  2. I'm unsure what conclusions to draw from these anecdotes, but my sense is that by surrounding ourselves with controllers of one sort or another, we learn to expect the world to behave with push-button simplicity and no longer seek synthetic understanding of diverse, unpredictable inputs. The honesty of young children concluding "It's broken" is strangely revealing. Adult technocrats think the same way but don't know it.

  3. brutus, I'm reminded of a 50-year-old New Yorker cartoon in which a man is changing a tire in a rainstorm while his kids peek peevishly at him from a half-opened window. "This is reality," he says; "I can't change the channel." But I guess that's why Jane McGonigal says Reality is Broken. Fix it, Daddy! Fix it!

  4. Well, sure, except when it serves what I consider a rather pernicious ideology as it does in this case.

    And if it were true, it would mean that this child has never been exposed to a print artefact, which doesn't really bear thinking about.

    (Sorry for the rather humourless reply – I am quite sensitive to this stuff.)

  5. A painting, such as Picasso’s “Guernica”, is interactive in the sense that meaning alway results form the interaction between the piece a viewer, and the context in which the encounter happens. Rather then interactivity being the site of differing the increased speed, and fluidity of that interaction. Technology makes new things possible while it mutates others into whole different things.

Comments are closed.