Dan Thomasson - Technology reaches into the baby crib


There are bad ideas and then there are BAD ideas. The difference of course is in the potential for harm.

A recent prime example of the latter can be found in Fisher-Price's decision to begin exposing America's babies to the wonder of technology within weeks of entering the world.

What obviously seemed like a good idea at the time for one of the nation's most respected manufacturers of educational toys is generating more than a little concern among those who think the rush to technological indoctrination has gone too far.

The company, a subsidiary of toy giant Mattel, is providing parents the opportunity to begin familiarizing their newborns with the earliest training possible in life's increasingly necessary functions by attaching iPads or similar modern marvels to their bouncy seats. Another company, CTA Digital, is offering the same thing in a potty chair.

The bouncy seats, originally designed to strengthen legs before learning to walk, will now allow the babies to experience the wonders of apps as they bob happily along. In fact, the seats are labeled the "Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat." The potty trainer permits a toddler to while away the experience by tapping on a screen.

While I don't remember my own experience with the potty trainer except I'm sure anything that would have distracted me from the business at hand while using it would have been welcomed. I do recall being told that my older sister who had decided to harass me while I was so engaged one day got too close and paid the consequence. Perhaps that wouldn't have happened had I been exposed to a marvelous magical touch me screen on my chair.

As for my own kids, it also might have eliminated standing around encouragingly to view the results and when they were positive clapping loudly in praise of a job well done.

Seriously, is there any doubt in one's mind that we have gone too far in our rush to reach global superiority in technology? The growing up experience already includes a dubious reliance far too much on an ability to cut corners in learning by using data packed devices that do everything for us from spelling to calculating our math to shouting out solutions to problems. Along the way millions of our children and grandchildren (in my case) spend hour upon hour staring at screens full of violence where they receive points for how many kills they register in an addictive ritual.

The main social contact many seem to have is with peers through "networks" they organize. They never get to know their fellow participants. None of this can be healthy. Psychologists have warned that this preoccupation with the games is severely threatening social development and could be responsible for anti-social behavior.

One wonders what the great behaviorist B.F. Skinner would think about the increasing lack of interconnection with people. Of course it will be up to the parents to decide whether they take advantage of the opportunity to attach pads to the bouncy seat. But it is not difficult to image that not only would a number of those mothers and fathers raised in this new tech world elect to do so, it also won't be terribly long before kiddy devices a mere step below the adult models will be available or already fixed to the seats.

For a long time Fisher-Price has been a recognized, respected leader in toys that permit the development of motor and mental skills-often marvelous wooden and well made plastic teaching tools that also enhance social learning. With that reputation in mind, it is marketing the latest venture as "a grow-with-me seat for babies that's soothing, entertaining, has a touch of technology, too."

The clamor against the idea however from the child development experts is considerable. Dr. Victor Strausburger, a pediatric professor at the University of New Mexico's Medical School, posed this question in an interview with The Washington Post. "Does anyone out there think the kids need more screen time," he asked, calling it a "terrible idea."

Obviously there is no way in this new culture that children can fail to be exposed to the technological revolution, even from an early age. Kids operate remote controls and other devices almost as toddlers. They learn quickly. But deliberately turning them into wonks as babies seems a fearful prospect we might seriously regret.

(Dan Thomasson is a columnist of Scripps Howard News Service.)

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