"Elmo!" my friend's six-year old exclaimed in my living room the other day. She'd come to visit with her folks and was sitting on the floor with a tablet in hand. Her delighted exclamation was followed by the unmistakable sound of the Sesame Street character singing in that goofy voice that many recognize.
I was curious how she found Elmo on the tablet I had just handed her, as I knew I had no Elmo videos on it. That her parents weren't surprised cued me to believe this was nothing new to them.
The Search Generation
I asked her to show me how she found "Elmo in the tablet", as she described it, and she showed me how she tapped the Search icon on the screen. In the search window she carefully typed "elmo" and excitedly showed me the list of online Elmo videos that appeared.
Kids today are instinctively learning to tap into the vast pool of knowledge on the web and get information about whatever they are curious about.
This got me to thinking about the profound effect that mobile technology is having on the current generation, that I've come to call the "search generation". This generation is the first to have only existed in a world where phones and tablets are commonplace. They've had phones in their hand and tapped on iPads (and the like) since they could hold them.
Since mobile devices have always been around, they have no intimidation about learning how they work. They have been able to do things with them from the get-go, and like the inquisitive kids they are have rapidly learned how to make them do what they want.
They have seen Mom and Dad "just Google it" countless times, and the search process is normal for them. Learning to search on devices is happening at a very early age, which is clear if you talk to their parents. Show them once and they hit the ground searching.
This may be the most profound effect that mobile technology will have on society in developed countries. Kids today are instinctively learning to tap into the vast pool of knowledge on the web and get information about whatever they are curious about. They're starting at a young age and will be able to find information on everything that interests them their whole lives.
Sure, they will do goofy searches about their favorite music stars and the like, but they will no doubt seek information about school stuff, too. That search for Elmo at a young age could very well segue into a search about right angles when my friend's daughter hits that topic in school. Failing to grasp the teacher’s explanation or the text book description of a concept will no longer hold students back as it has in the past.
There are those concerned about how much time kids spend with a phone in hand, and those are valid concerns. There is a balance that needs to be struck between gadget time and social interaction without a device in front of the face. This may be different for each child so parents need to be closely involved in device time rationing.
This is a pivotal point in history. Having the vast amount of online knowledge available and accessible by the first generation for whom tapping into it is second nature is epic. The search generation will develop the skill for getting the information they need into a fine art.
This honing of their search skill over their entire childhood will mean that as adults they will usually be on top of things. This will be a positive change in the workplace, as workers of the future will be better prepared for the job from day one.
The importance of mobile technology to the search generation is big in developed countries, but not in those without access to mobile technology. It's crucial that areas lacking access to mobile tech are helped by the nations where it is widespread. If this doesn't happen and soon, the gap between those who have mobile tech and those who don't will be growing wider with passing time.