A few weeks ago, I visited my niece, who ran up to me with her brand new Nintendo DS in hand to show me how she'd just recorded and somehow remixed her brother playing the drums. She's 6 years old.
"See, you do this," she said, flipping her little pencil thing around the DS screen, "and then you can go over here and make this." It was Christmas morning, and she'd owned the thing for approximately 20 minutes, and she'd already figured out how to record, take pictures, play games, and, for all I know, transform into a unicorn robot poised to take over the world. As she beeped and booped around the living room with her eyes fixed on the screen, I turned to my boyfriend and said, "I have no idea what she just did. I feel so old."
It knocks the smugness out of you when you realize how easy it is to fall behind on things. I may be able to help my parents set up their iPods or what have you, but a first-grader completely schooled me in the ways of DS. It's not that she figured it out that surprised me, but how quickly she figured it out, as if she'd been remixing drum solos in the womb.
Brad Stone of the New York Times has had similar experiences with his 2-year-old daughter, who saw Stone reading a Kindle and immediately identified it as "Daddy's book." The Kindle wasn't a newfangled reading device in her eyes; it was just a book. "Here is a child only beginning to talk, revealing that the seeds of the next generation gap have already been planted," Stone writes, "She has identified the Kindle as a substitute for words printed on physical pages. I own the device and am still not completely sold on the idea."
Stone goes on to note that there are smaller generation gaps forming, due to the rapidly evolving technologies, noting that people in their 20s still rely on email and instant messaging while people in their teens prefer texts. Generational divides over privacy and the need for instant gratification may form as well, as younger people will grow up never knowing what the world was like before GPS tracking or real time updates. "It's not yet clear whether these disparities between adjacent groups of children and teenagers will simply fade away, as the older groups come to embrace the new technology tools, or whether they will deepen into more serious rifts between various generations."
Interestingly enough, I recently came across a similar article from 1990, written about my generation, and our shift to the world of computers and video games. Though the technologies are rapidly changing, it seems the same story is being told: kids are the ones leading the way, and the rest of us will have to catch up. As Seymour Papert of M.I.T. told Times writer Edward Rothstein at the time, "Kids have a fascination with the future. Collectively, and all over the world, they know this technology belongs to them.''