Do Kids Really Need Their Own Computer OS? - InformationWeek

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5/14/2009
07:38 AM
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Do Kids Really Need Their Own Computer OS?

When should a baby get his or her own first computer? According to some marketers, it could be the perfect 1st birthday gift.

When should a baby get his or her own first computer? According to some marketers, it could be the perfect 1st birthday gift.There are operating systems ("OS") available that make computers infant-friendly, such as Qimo and Sugar. The idea is that you can take some old box, wipe-out that beloved version of Windows XP, and load an OS that translates the I/O into something that's far more keyboard-banging, simple icon chasing, game-playing friendly. It can run easy programs, and it's even possible to help them establish baby networks (or "I2I," for infant-to-infant communities).

I'm not convinced this is such a good thing, for at least two reasons:

First, why does an infant need a computer? I know they're going to be tethered to technology devices for most of their lives, and the ability to use the stuff is important. But using a PC it is also pretty obvious to a kid, or to an adult, for that matter. I didn't touch a computer until I was in high school. My Dad bought his first computer at 45. So I don't think there's any rush to get the gizmos into toddlers' hands.

Unless it helps them learn stuff, right? I know that Qimo was designed to help learning-impaired kids work with computers, and that makes perfect sense. But what games, programs, or social media do little kids really need to play with? There's compelling data that suggests interactive tools, whether PC or TV-based, aren't terribly good at helping them learn, especially when contrasted with the engagement of breathing, geophysical present adults.

Which brings me to my second thought: aren't there better ways to integrate intelligent technology into kids' lives? I'm thinking about distributed tech, like a mobile hanging over the crib that creates repeatable sound or light patterns, or "smart" building blocks. Technology that's embedded into the everyday elements of their surroundings, which allows for I/O that's nothing more than what they already say, burp, hit, or whatever.

Making an OS for kids is sort of like creating a booster seat so they can drive a motorcycle. Don't they need to learn how to push a stroller first?

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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