At a family gathering yesterday, my sister-in-law's daughter, who is not even three years old, played with her parents' iPhone and displayed her deftness in manoeuvring it. Her father said she has some knowledge of using the "search" function.
To me, this is hardly surprising. On the MTR, I often see toddlers or even babies on strollers toying with electronic gadgets, such as game consoles or their parents' mobile phones. Many of them are not just fidgetting the devices but showing some attempts to control them. Such a phenomenon has important implications:
Computer technology and information technology are not only pervasive but also empowering. They have made the innovations and information so accessible, affordable and manageable.
Like it or not, kids of this and future generations are bound to spend a good part of their formative years typing at the keypads and staring at the screen. The advantage is that from very early on they will have the skills and the know-how for them to reap the benefits that a digitally-controlled and connected world may provide. But we have yet to fully understand the impact on the intellectual, social and physical development such a manner of growth may have on the children.
Last but not least, will the Digital Divide between the haves and the have-nots be widened or bridged? society be made more equal or will the Digital Divide widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots? Will it be that the accessibility of information and technology to all helps level the playing field? Or will it be that parents with iPhones for their children to experiment with, like my sister-in-law, have a distinct advantage in preparing their children for the Cyberworld?
It seems that what Charles Dickens famously wrote almost two hundred years ago still applies to the world today:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."