Happy Birthday to the WWW—and what it means to the next generation

One of my favorite gifts that we’ve gotten for our almost 3 year old son since he was born is his Leaptop, a child-sized laptop that knows his name, spells it, and sings songs about it (W! chachachacha A! chachachacha L! chachachacha L! chachachacha Y! chachachacha, Wally!) He loves it too—he has a special dance that involves running in place and throwing his hands back and forth just for this song.

The Leaptop also has “email” messages programmed into it from a few aunts and cousins, and he plays those over and over. “You have an email from, Cousin Grady!” Even though this is the same message that has been in the laptop for the 2 years that we’ve had it, he still shouts, “Cousin Grady!” every time he presses the button and gets the notification. I am now considering opening up a “Maily” account for him, so he can receive actual email messages to his own account from senders that I approve of.

It’s no secret that our kids are growing up in a new world, technology wise, compared to our generation. Imagine how old we will seem when we tell them that we were in elementary school when the first Nintendo came out. The World Wide Web was born 21 years ago this week (on August 6, 1991)—I was just about to start middle school. (This means those that are graduating college at the end of this schoolyear and entering the workforce never knew a world without the Web.) We were in high school and college when email started to become popular, and a cell phone was still considered a luxury during those years. We will be ancient in our kids’ eyes.

And now the world has changed. My son has a laptop. He spends an hour every morning playing learning games on his dad’s iPad. And I am considering buying this Fisher Price iPhone teether for my 4 month old daughter.

And while this world of technology might seem scary, and we might debate all sorts of things about “kids these days” and “when I was young,” some of what this technology-driven world offers turns out to be pretty cool. Thanks to a half hour every morning on this Elmo ABC app, my son, who is too impatient still to sit for any teaching moments, knows his ABCs. (As an added bonus, this gives my husband the chance to wake up, has his coffee, and enjoy his exercises whine and tantrum free.)

Because he was learning so much on the iPad, we have started to take advantage of MomsWithApps.com Free App Fridays, where tons of educational apps for toddlers are available at no cost. I am all for the iPad tutor, and I wish they had it when I was a todder. And 77% of parents would agree with me—in a recent study, 77% of parents believed that using tablets was beneficial for their children and the thought the gadgets helped develop creativity.

A NY Times column by David Pogue ruminates on whether its fair to say that all electronics are bad for kids, especially considering educational and creative apps like the ones I just talked about. He says in the TV debate, we make exceptions for Sesame Street and other such shows. Why not for tablet apps? I’d add that besides promoting education and creativity, tablets offer the unique benefit of helping toddlers and kids with their fine motor skills. This evidenced by the fact that my  occupational therapist sister-in-law is the one who told me about MomsWithApps. She regularly uses her iPad in her work with kids.

Yes, the Interwebs is all grown up, and our kids are the first generation who will be researched on the effect of too much or too little technology. I, for one, will stay on the “feel good about it” side of the fence. Especially after my son, who after countless Sesame Street episodes and books about numbers still doesn’t recognize a “5” by sight, on a recent shopping trip, said, “K-O-H-L-S” when we pulled up to the store. I think it’s time for us to download a numbers app, so he can help me count to 21, and wish the World Wide Web a happy birthday! Thanks for getting us to the point where my son can have fun learning his letters. Here’s to more exciting tech developments in the future. Have a drink for me! Cheers!