Everywhere I go, I see people glued to their smartphones, laptops, or iPads. I’ve seen entire families sit together in silence at restaurants as each plays on his or her respective device. It’s gotten to the point where many of us would prefer to email someone rather than pick up the phone and call them. Technology has produced great tools that allow us to communicate with people on the other side of the world. But what about the people right in front of us? Have we become too reliant on technology and less focused on real, everyday human interactions?
In a recent article for Fast Company, writer Nicole Laporte voiced an internal struggle that I’m sure many parents have felt:
“As I watch my 2-and-a-half-year-old son skillfully scroll through my iPad, choosing between episodes of Thomas & Friends and Pingu, and my 5-month-old daughter already casting mesmerized glances at my iPhone, I hesitate to give them another reason to be glued to a screen. Go outdoors! Jump in a pool! is my perhaps futile idea of how kids should spend their free time. It’s the same reason I silently sigh when I drive by the signs for tech camp at UCLA that are all over the streets near our house. Whatever happened to spending the summer roasting marshmallows?”¹
Laporte poses an interesting idea. While she doesn’t say that coding is to blame for our society’s technology addiction, she seems worried about how it may impact it. It’s true, learning to code requires additional time spent in front of the computer. But teaching kids to program actually opens up a wide variety of opportunites, including ones that don’t require sitting in front of a computer all day. Learning to code teaches valuable skills that are just as useful offline as they are online: critical thinking, logic, and problem solving, to name a few. Moreover, programming is a collaborative effort. Many envision a software engineer as some guy sitting all alone in a basement coding in the dark. The reason though that many start up offices are designed the way they are—open floor plans with few offices and plenty of portable desks and laptops that allow you to work wherever—is that computer programming is a group effort. In fact, I would argue that programming is actually a less isolating career than many others. My observation while working at a start up was this: while a portion of an engineer’s day is spent with headphones on staring at the computer screen, the other is spent hashing out problems with teammates and collaborating with other departments on how to make their processes more efficient.
It’s true that as a society, we have become extremely reliant on technology. But keeping your kids out of coding camps isn’t going to change that, nor will putting them in them necessarily increase the addiction. Technology is a part of our lives and it’s not going anywhere. Rather than increasing the fear of and pushing back against technology, we should learn to balance it. We need to learn to unplug when we don’t need our devices and take the time to appreciate the world outside of our smartphones. It’s no different for kids learning to code. Learning computer science is becoming a requirement in our society. According to Code.org, over the next 10 years there will be close to 1,000,000 more computing jobs than computer science graduates.² But we also need to encourage balance. Like adults, children don’t need to be plugged in all the time. But rather than pushing back on computer science education, let’s embrace it and remind our kids, and society, that technology, while a great tool, should not consume our lives.
¹LaPorte, N. (2014). Should I Teach My Kid to Code? Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3033181/second-shift/should-i-teach-my-kid-to-code
²Summary of source data for Code.org infographic. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gySkItxiJn_vwb8HIIKNXqen184mRtzDX12cux0ZgZk/pub
Featured image via http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-code-on-105/