My Baby’s First Text Message

The title of this article is taken from a great post by Dominic Basulto on the bigthink blog. He writes about the need for our educational system to keep up with the changes in childhood development due to omnipresent digital devices. If babies can use iPads how will they remain engaged as students in elementary school paging through textbooks and writing homework assignments on ruled paper? The photo is borrowed from Martin Lindstrom‘s excellent post in Fast Company about technology contributing to our loss of ritual. In our rush toward instant gratification we have left behind the rituals that often contained more meaning than the thing itself. His example of taking a vacation, returning home to drop off rolls of film for processing, and the excited anticipation to see and share the photos has been replaced with the instant click, quick look at the camera’s screen, then quick post to Facebook. While this may be a new ritual in itself, it has hardly the same emotional resonance as the one it replaced.

There are many things that have come together in our current digital ecosystem that point to the need to adapt our old models of teaching and invent new models of experiencing. In my view, the two things that have had the greatest impact are wireless social connection and Apple products. The former allows children (and all of us) to quickly form a broad range of connections–children already easily form connections at a young age as they don’t see each other as demographic segments, value adds or detractors, but simply as potential play partners, at least until they grow older and the social networks serve as an extension of all the good and bad of growing up. And the latter, Apple’s suite of interconnected products, has all but eliminated the barrier to accessing technology, whether the most anti-technology luddite or a toddler. A quick search found 458 YouTube videos of “baby using iPad“. Another video shows 100 year old Virginia thrilled to use her new iPad. Another example of how these new devices are having a profound effect on learning is described in this article in the San Jose Mercury News about how the iPad and specially designed apps are proving to be highly effective in teaching autistic children.

When I think about the impact technology will have for the future of eduction and for the future of our own daily life experience I worry that as we race toward the next innovation and rush to implement each iteration of progress we are also leaving something important behind. So much of our life’s significance comes not from simply experiencing something but by deriving meaning from it, and meaning is difficult to obtain in nano-seconds. Meaning takes some time to cook. Meaning comes from combining connections to the heart and the mind. By making things too instantaneous we skip the process of getting to know something, of developing an understanding of it, of generating an emotional connection with it. There is a huge gulf between the knee-jerk emotion of a tear-jerker and the deep-seated physical emotion of leaving a loved one. One is a truncation and replication of meaning and the other is the real deal.

It doesn’t have to be so dramatic an example either. Our technologic lifestyle and the concurrent decrease of ritual reduce the pleasure of experience. For example I have my own morning ritual of preparing coffee, a certain way that I like to read, and I love the preparations that lead to a home-cooked dinner. In performing my rituals (grinding coffee, settling in my favorite chair, chopping herbs) I have transformed something simple (drinking coffee, reading, eating) into an experience that is much more than the simple need being addressed.

As we develop new technologies, and as we find new ways of teaching and learning it will be increasingly important to give ritual a seat at the table. To allow for the idea of of slowness to be a part of the process. To value deep experience over checking off a task. Not just so we can stop and smell the roses but so that we can even understand the meaning such a simple ritual can have.

This also applies to brands and marketing in that providing people with opportunities to reclaim past rituals or create new ones gives each person something much more that the product or service–it gives them meaningful or meaning-filled experiences they can remember and reconnect with over and over.

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