What my daughter taught me about the future of technology


I’ve been telling a story lately (apt given my job title is storyteller) about the use of changing landscape of technology in which our children are growing up. My first glimpses at technology as a child were things like huge VHS video recorders and the never ending comedy of coming up with rude words by typing numbers in to a calculator and turning it upside down. The first PC that entered our household ran at 8Mhz and had a 40mb hard disk – I remember writing COBOL programs on that machine for my computer studies class at age 15. Tedious stuff.

Obviously things have moved on and the last 6 months have been a real eye opener in to how the next generation will use, and expect to use technology. In fact they probably won’t think of it as technology and will show far less amazement than my generation did as we held gleaming CD’s in our hands and sent text messages to friends across the world. The next generation will just assume technology is there, much like we do with electricity and they’ll find it far less quirky than they find their parents I expect.

This generational shift has been brought home to me in the last 6 months. As my family and I have settled in to our new home in the US, we’ve become even more connected than we were in the UK. Services such as Netflix have been a welcome complement to the 500 channels (but nothing on) of cable TV and with a 2 year old in the house, the vast catalogue of Barney is a godsend. This leads to my recent story: a few weeks ago my wife was cooking in the kitchen and asked me to turn off Barney as dinner was about to arrive on the table. We stream Netflix from our Xbox so I reached for the controller to hit the Green A button and pause the stream. Crap – the batteries in the controller had expired and I was getting increasing demands to turn that “noise” off. I was about to go in search of two new double A batteries and then remembered I had Kinect hooked up. I simply said “Xbox, pause” and silence descended as Netflix duly responded and paused the stream. My daughter looked up at me, no doubt impressed at my ability to control technology far better than I can control her.

What happened next is best explained with an audio clip – hit play below (sadly you can’t say “web page, play”….yet).

Xbox Kids (mp3)

…it turns out my daughter wasn’t impressed with me. She was impressed with the technology. From that moment on, she began demanding that the Xbox “play” or “pause”. Now she’s asking it for other things like “ice cream” and “chocolate”. I also caught her shouting at the microwave as it heated her milk – seriously, she said “Xbox” to the microwave followed by an unintelligible command that I assume was “faster”. Yesterday I found her playing with my Windows Phone and realized that she has worked out that a swipe upwards on the screen presents the unlock screen – thankfully she’s yet to master my PIN code but that’s only days away I suppose.

What this has shown me, in the comfort of my own home, is that my daughter and kids like her are going to grow up expecting to be able to interact with technology by voice, touch and gesture. It will not be a feature they pay a premium for, it’ll simply be expected in a world where computing gets more natural and invisible. I’ve been talking about both of those phenomena on this blog for a while but to see them in action with a 2 year old gave me a glimpse in to the future that I’d not seen before. It was actually quite shocking initially. 

With almost perfect timing, I then stumbled across a report from Latitude that studies children’s future requests for computers and the Internet. It’s a fascinating report and only 5 pages in I read that 20% of the kids surveyed explicitly requested auditory controls for interfaces. On page 6, a hand drawn image from a 7 year old in the US is remarkabe in it’s likeness to the magic window that I have mentioned Steven Bathiche is working on.


The report was a fascinating read for me and opened new areas of thinking based on kids desires for technology. I’d never really thought of a robot as a potential friend for a child that could answer many of the “why” questions I will have no idea about, simply by autonomously connecting to Wikipedia. That highlights the control I’ll have to exercise as a parent too in not becoming lazy and relying on technology for education, parenting, companionship and love.

As the report notes, the digital vs. physical divide is disappearing before our very eyes. Personally, I’m hugely enthusiastic about it, and optimistic about the incredible benefits technology will bring to the digital natives of tomorrow. Sure, it’ll need some careful management and thoughtful decisions, but we’ll have to embrace it as our kids will before we know it.

“Xbox, bed time!”