I think you are missing a really important point here: as you noted, back in the day we didn’t have the access to our beloved computer 24/7. It was confined to the table it sat on, and when not at it, you could not use it.
The bad thing about that was that we were glued to that table. A nice July day outside? Who cares, let’s shut the blinds, the light is preventing me to see the screen! We indeed used every single moment we could on the keyboard and had bad withdrawal symptoms when drawn involuntarily to a vacation at the summer cottage.
The good thing was that when we were — say — on our way to school, we could not use the computer. Today’s children can and they do. That kills the imagination and clogs their mind with unnecessary addictions, like catching Gen 2 Pokémon. It’s Janus-faced – it’s no longer a problem for children to get out, because then they can wander around playing Pokémon or whatever is the fad du jour. But then, they are not letting their imagination roam free but remain in the constraints of the game.
Also, in order to play games, we had to learn to adjust ourselves to the computer’s mindset, if not learn to code per se. The limitations were beneficial, and many of kids of that era are now highly adept computer specialists. They would not be, if they only had to press a button and the automation did the rest.
The world is now too easy for children to use electronic devices to their entertainment. Playing a game on a smartphone or tablet is much more like owning a NES than a 386 running DOS (where you had to hack config.sys and autoexec.bat to get all the games working with the soundcard, mouse etc), not even mentioning C64 with its cryptic LOAD “*”,8,1 kind of commands.
Today’s devices are opaque. Kids have no idea how their magic box that fits in the pocket works, you just have to keep it charged. The whole system architecture is totally fremd to them, they probably won’t even know what’s the difference between CPU and RAM or what happens “under the hood”. (In some abstract sense they understand the concept of storage space though, because that’s the thing that causes problems if you are not careful…)
What I’ve heard, young people born after mid-90s are no longer digital natives in that sense that they could properly operate a computer at the workplace. Sure, they can google, snap, tweet, instagram, etc and even make and edit YouTube videos, but automatic data processing, like databases, spreadsheets or even editing Word documents? Nope, does not compute. (pun intended)
I’m now a parent of a 8 year old boy. I’m trying to teach him the good things about computing. Like the basics of coding and also introducing him to some classics of computer game history. (Last weekend we played C&C.) I however was happily surprised when I saw what he made in a Minecraft fork.
I’m also kind of strict with the smartphone use: no games in the evening, it’s reserved for family time and getting ready for bed. If something, then playing PS2 or N64 classics with us parents.
However, I am not as strict at myself, as you might notice from the timestamp (2:35 AM). :D