Technology Adapts To Imagination, Not The Other Way Around
Last weekend, after failing yet again to settle Catan, I instead settled myself into the recliner to watch Real Steel, the Rocky / Over the Top near-futuristic mashup starring Hugh Jackman. I’m not going to go into a detailed plot synopsis, but the quick summary is Jackman and his newly-met 11-year-old son travel around with a fighting robot that the kid found and helped fix, climaxing with the inevitable finale against the current champion Apollo Creed…I mean Zeus. It’s a fun movie with plenty of action, drama, romance, personal growth, and 10-foot-robots beating the circuits out of each other.
My purpose for writing, though, isn’t to review the cinematic interpretation of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, but to address the comment my oldest made during scene where the boy stays up all night working on his robot. In that scene, the kid is hunched over the workbench, pulling components out, running them across the screen, punching buttons, and Connor said, in sarcastic disbelief, “Yeah, like a kid could do that.”
I agreed at first, but then I realized the boy wasn’t some advanced engineering genius; he was merely using the tools at his disposal. It was no more complicated than a kid today adding gradient background to an image in GIMP or creating a school fundraising flyer in Word. Cooler of course. It was a giant killer robot. More technologically advanced? Absolutely. But in the end it was still just a mammal using a tool — the futuristic Hollywood version of a chimp with a stick digging termites.
I mention this because there is a belief among many that their kids are some kind of wunderkind Ender-Wiggin-meets-Jimmy-Neutron super-genius because they were able to master a tool. I don’t mean to belittle the value of the skill, simply point out that a kid in 2020 swapping out a voice-recognition module on his fighting robot is just as impressive as a kid in 2012 adding an App to his iPad, a kid in 1985 loading a game from cassette on his Commodore, or a kid in 1905 changing the tire on his bicycle. While it is important a child learn how to use the tools that surround his daily life, what is more important is to acknowledge and praise the ingenuity and creativity a child demonstrates while using those tools.
We should applaud a toddler’s ability to combine red and yellow to make orange, but rejoice when she uses that orange to create the landscape from her imagination, whether it be with finger paints on newsprint or with SketchBook Pro on an iPad; recognize the mastery of both a pencil and a Word Processor, but even more so praise the stories that come out of it. As geek dads, we should not simply be training our children to become technicians; life will do that for them. We should be helping them to find the joy that comes from creation and discovery.