Friday, 7 June 2013

An Apple a Day Keeps Neuroplasticity Away (iPad vs. iSad)

All of my Apple devices are now locked with a simple code: 0000.  How predictable!  Any person walking by can access my iPhone or iPad information in an instant.  Too true.  In reality, I'm not all that concerned about people looking at, or using these devices, what I'm trying to avoid by using this simple code, is my little one accidentally purchasing hundreds of £’s or $’s worth of music off of my iTunes account.  

Coming on three-years-old, she cannot read, so the fact that when the central button on the device is pushed and the screen silently screams at her to “slide to unlock”, she doesn't think about the choice “to slide or not to slide” (a modern day Shakespeare may ponder such a daily dilemma) she merely does it, almost instinctively.  This has come about through simple observation; observing my wife and I performing this action numerous times a day.  My daughter is merely modelling our behaviour almost in a way which makes her neigh on a passive receptor.  This is something that most kids her age are now able to perform with absolute ease and little thought.   Parents are often proud to express their delight at the fact that their two, three, four, whatever-it-may-be year old can navigate their way through the apps on a phone or a tablet.  This is, in a way (I guess), impressive, but it takes little more than mere observation to perform this task.

There is currently an advertisement on British Television advertising the amazing new ******* system (I'm not in the business of bad mouthing products but the blank space can be filled in by imagining a word which has a close relation to shutters; those that block out sunlight).  The advert shows a young child painting on a screen with a virtual paintbrush...and to add insult the tablet is even placed on an easel!  Classic!!  And even funnier, the easel is covered in real paint blotches.  As the child “paints”, the mother is ready and waiting to put these wonderful creations up on the kitchen wall. WHAT? Have we even stopped to think about what is going on here?  This advert is replacing core skills which children need to learn in order to cognitively and neurologically develop.

I spoke about neuroplasticity (the brain’s neural pathways physically changing and developing depending on the activities experienced by ones senses) in a previous blog which highlighted the importance of learning through discovery.  What we are doing here is almost making our senses defunct.  Setting up an easel, attaching the page or canvas to it, pouring the paint, smelling the paint, touching the paint, dipping the brush, mixing colours before your very eyes, etc. , etc.  (the list is almost endless) is all taken away by a single app.  Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly no fuddy-duddy when it comes to the advancement of technology, but we need to leave some space for experimental learning to take place if our children are going to neurologically develop in the way they were wired to.  To put it not-so-simply: Tactile memory systems are involved in the storage and retrieval of information about stimuli that impinge on the body surface and objects that people explore haptically (to satisfy the scientist in you; I cater for all needs).

It is great that children are embracing technology and learning a world which is so relevant to their future, but this should not substitute real life experiences.  Watching a YouTube clip which shows visuals of the ocean does not give one the joys of actually being ocean spray, no salty taste and definitely no sea air breeze.   It is an obvious observation, but one often overlooked by today’s parents.

(..and yes, I wrote this whole blog without touching a piece of paper or a pen...and I didn't even need to pop down to the post office with a stamp attached to mail it to you - crazy times!)  


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