iPad educationThe UK tabloid press has jumped all over a survey from British Military Fitness which purports to prove that “Britain’s tech savvy toddlers are more likely to own a tablet than a teddy.” This comes as part of the company’s #Springintoaction campaign to encourage British kids to get out and exercise, rather than spending time indoors in unhealthy pursuits like … reading?

According to the company, “in today’s digital age, children’s time is being invested in technology: two thirds (67%) of children can confidently use an iPhone, more than half (58%) own an iPad yet 41% of children don’t own a football, and 39% own a PlayStation to be able to play FIFA online!” And “58% of kids prefer to play on iPads and games rather than play outside.”

I’m just very slightly skeptical of this information given the source. British Military Fitness after all has every economic interest in encouraging insecurity about modern indoor living habits. It also has come up with more than one past survey showing that various demographics suffer from lack of motivation and other grave social faults that prevent them going down to the gym and signing up for British Military Fitness. And since when did a gym chain become an authority on social trends anyway?

Still, that doesn’t stop rabble-rousing gutter press from jumping on the anti-tech scare story. And there’s one point they seem to have passed over. Perhaps those kids may have been learning to read on their tablets? Hopefully not to grow up to become tabloid paper readers…


  1. What we see in the U.S. is almost certainly true in the U.K. These kids are not using their tablets to read War and Peace at six. They’re playing games, games and more games. Twitching their fingers, but little else.

    Nor is this a result of any bias in what little is left of the UK military. The World Health Organization has this to say:

    “Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. The problem is global and is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. The prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. Globally, in 2013 the number of overweight children under the age of five, is estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 31 million of these are living in developing countries.


    And the WHO gives this reasons:

    Global increases in childhood overweight and obesity are attributable to a number of factors including:

    * A global shift in diet towards increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other healthy micronutrients;

    * A trend towards decreased physical activity levels due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of recreation time, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.



    When I lived in Seattle, I worked for a community center that had acquired a 1904 elementary school and a 1917 middle school. Around the buildings, we put pictures of teachers and students from about 1908 until the city set aside the schools in the mid-1970s.

    In none of the pictures are there obese children or teachers. At most, there’s one or two who are stout. Most look skinny and underfed by today’s standards.

    Here’s a photo probably from the 1920s, judging by the clothes.


    You can see one reason why from that picture. They had lots of open fields to play in. Today, my apartment, another apartment building, and a dentist office are in the space where those kids are.

    This is the “rabble-rousing gutter press… jumping on the anti-tech scare story.” It is quite true and had dreadful implications for the future, as the WHO notes;

    “Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. Overweight and obesity, as well as their related diseases, are largely preventable. Prevention of childhood obesity therefore needs high priority.”

    Growing up in the 1950s, I was fortunate. We didn’t get a TV until I was in the second grade and even then there were only three channels with almost no kids programming. We played outdoors to keep ourselves busy and, except for Little League, we didn’t have adults supervising our playing. We did what we wanted far from adults. So what if the woods were filled with rattlesnakes. If you make enough noise, the run away from you. That teaches a can-do confidence.

    Look at today’s college kids. They hardly radiate confidence do they? Forget facing snakes. Parents send them a strong message that they can’t even cope with a city playground on their own. One result is that money grow up frightened of anything different.

    Some have trouble coping with disagreement. In Shirley Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation she quotes them as seeing texting and better than talking because you can, they think, avoid saying the wrong thing. The sad reality is that texting is so narrow in comparison to face-to-face that, despite all their efforts to get text messages just right, spending untold hours on punctuation and emoticons, they do get it wrong, often terribly so. And if you have to text friends to avoid trouble, how can you talk to strangers?

    According to Turkle’s young interviewees, the vicious circle works like this: “Parents give their children phones. Children can’t get their parents’ attention away from their phones, so children take refuge in their own devices. Then, parents use their children’s absorption with phones as permission to have their own phones out as much as they wish.” For Turkle, the onus lies squarely on the parents: “The most realistic way to disrupt this circle is to have parents step up to their responsibilities as mentors.”



    If you hated someone and wanted to make them a failure in life, which scheme would work the best.

    1. Ensure that they’re illiterate.

    2. Ensure that they have trouble conversing outside a narrow circle of friends and a narrow circle of topics.

    The latter would be the worst and is what’s happening to those becoming adults now. Try for a moment to imagine what you life would be like if you were unable to read others emotions and respond to them accordingly.

    Turkle’s also has something interesting to say about the link between solitude and self:

    Conversation is Turkle’s organizing principle because so much of what constitutes humanity is threatened when we replace it with electronic communication. Conversation presupposes solitude, for example, because it’s in solitude that we learn to think for ourselves and develop a stable sense of self, which is essential for taking other people as they are. (If we’re unable to be separated from our smartphones, Turkle says, we consume other people “in bits and pieces; it is as though we use them as spare parts to support our fragile selves.”)… When you speak to people in person, you’re forced to recognize their full human reality, which is where empathy begins. (A recent study shows a steep decline in empathy, as measured by standard psychological tests, among college students of the smartphone generation.) And conversation carries the risk of boredom, the condition that smartphones have taught us most to fear, which is also the condition in which patience and imagination are developed.

    These little Japanese kids bullying a robot in a shopping center was disturbing enough, researchers had to teach the robot to avoid children. In extreme situations, they had to teach the robot to flee to adults for protection. Imagine if they grow up and extend that to people:

    Japanese scientists wondered what would happen if you leave a stray robot to walk around the Mall. Experimental observations showed that with high probability will become a victim of small Japanese bullies children. They will join in groups, to kick, to beat the robot and even to insult him. Robovie 2 was just walking around the Mall in Osaka and was programmed to politely ask people to step aside if they stand in his way. But children in most cases refused to obey the machine and specifically blocked her way. Then started started to misbehave and beat the robot. This forced scientists to develop an algorithm of avoiding bullies. They created a system that assesses the likelihood of abuse in percentages. If a small humanoid growing up to 1 meter 40 centimeters passes close to the robot without an adult, the threat increases. If a child with a backpack, the probability of abuse increases even more. When the robot observes that children are just a number, then instantly changing its direction of motion. And in the extreme case Robovie 2 tries to find protection in adults, hoping that in their eyes, the bullies will not build his plots.



    Don’t worship technology. It is not only not all it is cracked up to be, it doesn’t care if you like it or not.

    –Mike Perry

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