A Response to “A Magazine is an iPad That Does Not Work”

This post originally appeared in Lockergnome on 16 October 2011 as a reaction to what was at the time a widely circulated video. I find myself referring back to how I thought about this video in the context of my own daughter as I see her now at almost 8 years old discovering what’s possible with the voice interactions of Alexa.

You can watch the video below for more context before diving into my response.

There’s a video making the rounds of a baby unsuccessfully attempting to make paper magazines react to her touch the way the iPad reacts (embedded at the end of this article). The premise, as laid out by Jean-Louis Constanza, the baby’s father, is that “The video shows how magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives. It shows real life clip of a 1-year old, growing among touch screens and print. And how the latter becomes irrelevant.” Unfortunately dad is doing his baby a disservice in suggesting a magazine is impossible to understand.

Jean-Louis Constanza, is correct in saying, “Technology codes our minds, changes our OS.” But he’s mistaken in thinking we are rewired to the point of rendering older technologies useless. If anything, new technology expands our options, not limits them. If advancement of technology truly made older gadgets obsolete, no one would be able to pound a nail with a hammer anymore. We’d all require a nail gun instead. Cooking wouldn’t happen over an open flame, or even on a stove top; we’d only heat our food with microwaves.

I learned to heat food in a microwave before I ever cooked food over the open flame of a campfire. As a superior technology, the microwave should have precluded my ability to learn to cook over flames, if new technologies make older ones impossible to understand. I submit we learn how to apply the right technology to the situation at hand, not fail to comprehend the technology because it is a fundamentally different way to accomplish something. Babies magnify this innate ability to adapt because they have fewer life experiences for reference points.

Babies learn by trying things. When a baby identifies something that works in one context, she will try to apply that same action to other contexts to see what the result is. This isn’t a failing in design of one thing over another; it’s how we start to process the world around us and identify which actions work with which objects. Eventually the baby will have a category of actions that work in specific situations. As she encounters new things, she will evaluate them, contextualized by those earlier experiences.

My daughter turned one the same week the iPad started shipping. We didn’t get an iPad right away, so she was about 14 months old when she first used an iPad. She already had experience with both iPhone and Android phones by then, but nothing in a tablet form factor. She took to the interactivity of the iPad quite quickly.

With the iPad in her world, my daughter tested every other screen in the house in a search of touch capability. Our HDTV screen and computer screens were disappointing at first, because they didn’t react to touch. She quickly discovered that stuff happened on the computer screen when she pushed keyboard buttons and moved the mouse. It wasn’t long before we’d find her changing songs in iTunes, without needing the ability to touch the screen. The computer wasn’t irrelevant because it lacked a touch screen; it just functioned differently.

She also had books, toys, and other physical objects that are theoretically inferior to the interactivity of the iPad. At about two-and-a-half years old now, my daughter generally prefers drawing on paper with crayons to drawing on a virtual sketchpad app. Print books get plenty of attention, despite having interactive alternatives on the iPad. She hasn’t lost interest in the iPad; it still gets daily attention. But it’s important to keep in mind that advancement of technology doesn’t necessarily render the previous version obsolete.