A grumpy post about Dinovember and digital creativity

Family ipad time

Standard Sunday morning iPad sessions

This week’s cool thing on the internet: A couple set toy dinosaurs up into little vignettes to give their kids a nice surprise in the morning. And I love it. I do. It’s quirky and fun and awesome – it’s dinosaurs being cute, it would be pretty hard to mess that up. Way to engage little minds. I do similar stuff by dressing up as a tiger and letting my fat tummy be a racetrack, I just thought that it was the fun bit of parenting, when you’re not clearing up shit and doing all the washing in the world. I didn’t realise that playing with my kids was a new frontier of creativity.

What really annoyed me about this post, however, was the implication, made at the end of their blog post, that technology is somehow responsible for a loss of imagination, creativity, wonder or intelligence in children. Quite apart from being demonstrably false, it proper grates me to see technology denigrated to the role of attention-stealer, actively making our children passive consumers of media, when in fact, used engagingly, it can form an important pillar of their development.

As the parent of a kid who is firmly on some kind of autistic spectrum, the computer, tablet, phone and dvd player have all been as vital in our child’s development as all the wooden toys, books and music that we have been ensuring he has. Seeing him watch YouTube videos of his particular favourite model of jet turbine engine (no, seriously, he has one) on an iPad and then spend an entire afternoon drawing pictures of it, both on paper and on the PC, looking up information about it and being excited when we go to the museum to see it has been a part of his play. This transmedia world is the world our children are growing up in and I do not subscribe to the idea that only carefully art-directed setups of plastic toys count as ‘creative’.

For one thing, this is not the child’s imagination at play. This is the creative ingenuity of the parents (who presumably have some form of artistic aptitude or profession if the beautiful finish of the DSLR photography is any measure) and the imposition of their ideas onto their unsuspecting children. The cynic in me wonders that, whilst the activity itself might be delightful for the kids, the self-congratulatory blog post and subsequent internet karma reaping isn’t being firmly engineered by parents who know exactly the value of this kind of activity, and I wonder if bemoaning the “age of iPads and Netflix’ isn’t just another button push for it’s target audience.

I really don’t like the suggestion that technology and media is somehow anti-wonder. It’s easy to forget sometimes when we’re immersed in maximising ROI and leveraging our synergies that actually we are working in a creative medium and, like my so oft used it’s cliché favourite quote states, advanced technology can appear to be nothing short of magic, instilling precisely that sense of wonder and imagination in adults and children alike.

It annoys me intensely when people, from old ladies on the bus to government ministers criticise technology as a damaging force in children’s lives, particularly since these children are growing up in a technology driven information economy. Furthermore technology can be a huge aid to development, particularly in children with developmental difficulties – check out Hellicar and Lewis’ amazing Somantics project for instance which is not only beautiful and imaginative but provided as a disruptive open source project to be extended and enhanced. It can provide new frontiers for children to be engaged in the principles of STEM – step forward Goldieblox and Kano to name but two exciting new projects. Finally, it can, at it’s best engage children in whole new worlds to imagine, educate and explore. If you think that creativity can only be expressed with traditional tools, well perhaps you just lack imagination…

About Andrew

Andrew Dobson has built websites for 13 years and now manages creative technology for Sky Creative, the internal creative agency of BskyB. Andy regularly lectures on creative technology and other geek matters and writes, records and performs as Digitonal He lives in North London with his family, the world of cat, and a righteous collection of classic electronica records. The opinions expressed on this site are the authors own and do not state or reflect the views of BSkyB.

3 comments

  1. Hear hear. My 11-yr-old spends a lot of time on MineCraft, where he designs and builds whole towns and has learnt a ton of stuff to do with 3D modelling, spatial awareness, presentation skills (filming walkthroughs for YouTube), communication skills, reading/writing, and has made many many friends via XBox Live so that when you walk past the room and listen to them all chatting away to one another you think there is a room full of 11-yr-olds.

    He also has a terrifying sophisticated political awareness, via all the stuff he watches on YouTube… not to mention his passion for film and ability to criticise and deconstruct the books and films he consumes (again, because he gets involved in so many online discussions of the latest cultural offerings).

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