Today’s children are coming of age immersed in video gaming, Web browsing, and instant messaging. Many have cell phones, laptops, and hand-held video games. Others have created avatars of themselves, and some are raising robot pets in virtual worlds. What impact does this technology have on children?
The most important lesson to remember is that “we are not technological species, but one that came of age through deep and intimate daily contact with other humans and with an embodied, physical natural and often wild world and we still need that world to flourish as a species.”
In May, the journal Children, Youth and Environments (CYE) published a special issue titled “Children in Technological Environments.” The issue examined the increasing prevalence of technology from various perspectives, including knowledge and education, social and moral development, culture and community, access and equity, relationship to nature, therapy and health, art and expression, and future scenarios.
“Today, technology is part of everyday life, and it can easily mediate or even replace other types of experiences,” said Nathan G. Freier, assistant professor of HCI in the Department of Language, Literature, and Communication, with a joint appointment in Information Technology, at Rensselaer. “The special issue provides us with a forum to address this ongoing dialogue regarding the impact of technology on children, and find ways to strike a balance in terms of interaction, development, and design.”
Articles in the special issue are authored by leading researchers from the United States, Britain, and Japan, and offer insight related to their projects and observations regarding interactive humanoid robots, digital libraries, virtual natural environments, video and online games, hacking, assistive technologies for children with learning disabilities, learning by doing with shareable interfaces, among other topics.
Freier’s research interests fit within the broad area of human-computer interaction with emphasis on technologies for children, social robotics, and value sensitive design. His work explores how children develop socially and morally in the context of increased interactions with apparently intelligent, autonomous systems such as graphical avatars and social robots. His co-editor of this issue and co-author of an article, Peter H. Kahn Jr., is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and adjunct professor in the Information School at the University of Washington. He also serves as director of the university’s Human Interaction with Nature and Technological Systems (HINTS) Lab.
The field of human-computer interaction holds the design and evaluation of digital technologies as central to its mission. Traditionally, the field has considered the human relationship to technology to be one of ‘use’; but the field is expanding to address the many facets of human-technology interaction that include a focus on emotional, social, and moral experiences, which account for this complexity in the design and evaluation process.
According to the authors, the most important lesson to remember is that “we are not technological species, but one that came of age through deep and intimate daily contact with other humans and with an embodied, physical natural and often wild world and we still need that world to flourish as a species.”
“In the years ahead, technological nature will get more sophisticated and compelling,” Kahn said. “But if it continues to replace our interaction with actual nature, it will come at a cost. To thrive as a species, we still need to interact with nature by encountering an animal in the wild, walking along the ocean’s edge or sleeping under the enormity of the night sky.”