Last week, I attended the The Sandbox Summit at MIT, a conference about the people, products, and policies that empower 21st Century Kids.
I had not expected to enjoy the conference as much as I did because I consider it part of my ‘job’ to learn about how kids are learning and playing in the digital age. Just the thought of studies about the ‘passback effect’ and ‘user generated content’ and all the buzzwords I hear every day, made me want to pull my hair out.
But from the very first moments sitting at the breakfast table before the conference, when I unknowingly sat next to Karen Cator, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the US Dept. of Education, I became fascinated by just how many different people are out there trying to develop the right content for kids. Just how many parents, teachers, principals, game designers, publishing companies, toy companies, even President Obama telling us our education system is broken, that we are in a national crisis– all of these people are, literally, worrying themselves sick over how to connect with kids in a meaningful way while they are so plugged in.
And there I am, trying to figure out what that means for preschoolers, the little ones I write content for at work. And what that means for me, as I try to write for a teen audience and connect with them through the pages of a book or an e-reader, or maybe it’ll have to be an app, or a microchip that I install in their brain the day they are born that will automatically download my novel into their subconcious at the exact moment they are developmentally able to handle what I have to say.
I determined that we’re all sending more and more information their way at such a rapid and challenging pace, and expecting them to process it faster and better than any generation before it, in a way that allows them to change the world.
I mean, talk about pressure.
And I don’t mean, for us. I mean, for them.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things I learned at this conference is that children are craving more time to play. That play is this elusive thing, just out of reach. That it is overscheduled, overanalyzed, that it must be safe and indoors where parents can keep track of it and monitor it, that it must squeeze it’s way between everything else we are throwing at them on a daily basis.
And this makes me sad.
I was the kid who woke up and went outside and did not go back indoors until my mother called for me at 9pm. I was the kid who biked in thunderstorms. Who came home green-stained, thirsty, and hungry, whining, while my mother attempted to untangle my hair with a comb.
And, so, like everybody else, I am worried. I am not going to lie.