Friday, December 14, 2007
Thanks to Sibley for sending me this fascinating article about "the laptop club"--a group of second and third graders in an afterschool program who designed their own (non-functional) laptops using construction paper, pencils, and a lot of imagination.
The article includes a gallery of images of these imagined computers, which have keys for things like "Harry Potter," "games," and "friends." It also features extracts from interviews with some of these kids, who at age 8 already have some clear opinions about how to be famous on the web, what they are better at than their parents, and which parts of the computer are most "valuable."
The debate over how young and how often kids should interact with computers has raged since the 1980s. One of the things that interests me about these images is the extent to which they demonstrate how computers have gone from tools used by adults to accomplish mostly professional tasks to tools that can be used by all kinds of people for all kinds of things. The classic mental image of a kid banging away at a keyboard, trying to be "like mom" has changed. These kids see computers as tools for gaming, music, shopping, creating, and are imagining interfaces that suit their own interests and devices. They can't type well, but who needs QWERTY if you have your button that links you directly to your friend Emma?
Jeff Han, one of the innovators of multi-touch interfaces such as that of the iPhone, has questioned the value of the $100 laptops being produced for children in third world countries, arguing that the kids who receive them will be using input interfaces--keyboards and mice--that will soon be out-of-date. Who will design the user interface for the computers of the future? Will we see greater diversity in what kinds of things are accessible from the click of a button? Will the explosion of plug-ins and widgets reach out of the screen and into our input devices?
All fun things to think about--and in this case, the thinking is inspired by designs created by children. I think it would be marvelous for museums, particularly childrens' and science museums, to offer open discussions about the future of technology incorporating kids' dreams in the debate in a legitimate and active way. I'm too used to my keyboard to imagine its future. The eight year old banging on my exhibits isn't.