Evidence of Moore's Law Right Under My Tree

If you don't know what Moore's Law is, it's time to figure it out.  I'll save you the extra steps of going to Wikipedia yourself to learn about it...here it is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law

Understanding that Moore's Law relates to exponential growth of technology as time advances is one thing.  Seeing your own children open Christmas gifts that truly display the effect of Moore's Law on our lives shifts it to a whole different level of importance for me.

I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old.  Admittedly, these kids are both already playing with the iPad and both are getting more screen time than I did as a child at their age.  They are not going to be technological misfits -- of that I am fairly certain!  However, this Christmas I saw them open gifts that seem to be absolute game changers in the way of personal learning.  And then to think about the gifts they received last year and to compare them completely demonstrated for me the true impact of exponential change in our lifetime.

Last year my older daughter received a Leap Frog device that had a keyboard and a mouse and software cartridges that plugged in.  When it worked properly she learned some basic skills, such as the hand/eye coordination needed to maneuver the mouse, along with participating in some basic shape and color learning activities.  It was impressive to see her work and adapt to the technology, but the technology wasn't mind blowing or even surprising.  It was what I would have expected it to be.

This year, my younger daughter (only one) got an age-appropriate stuffed toy from Leap Frog, and it is completely knocking my socks off with possibilities.  This little pooch plugs in to the computer via USB cable and customizes itself to say her name, play some music of our choosing, and do some other basic customizations.  However, it is tied to her name and an email account.  Every month, with a reconnect of the USB cable, the dog will upload information to the Leap Frog website, and  I (and the grandma that was responsible for the purchase) will be getting an email that tracks what she is doing and learning in her interactions with the plush canine friend.  Just think of the possibility of that kind of personalized learning and tracking.  Just imagine what next year's toy for two and three-year-old children may be able to do.

My older daughter, now three, received Kinectimals, an interactive game for the Xbox Kinect platform where she interacts with her tiger cub, Atro (don't ask me where that name came from...when your three any sound that comes out of your mouth seems to be a perfectly suitable name for a pet, doll, or digital tiger cub...although I question why her dolly is named panther and her tiger cub is the one named Atro, but again, the logic will fail me every time).  What amazed me was that she adapted to the onscreen interactions so quickly and so easily that I felt a bit embarrassed that my own onscreen interaction is so jumpy and unnatural.  Only a year before she struggled for some time with the concepts of mouse and keyboard.  This year she naturally saw the connection between the movement of her hand (without any additional sensor) to the movement of the onscreen hands that allowed her to interact with a digital creature.  I know that developmentally this makes sense (she is far more ready for this kind of interaction at this age), but think about the impact of that kind of exposure at such a young age.  I recently watched (with an audience full of adults) a video from Microsoft that demonstrated their vision of how we would work and interact with technology in the future.  I know I was moved but questioned the possibility of some of the technologies displayed in the video.  However, the reality is that my daughter (and all the other little ones exposed to this kind of technology during their lives) will expect the technology to be seamless and ever-present.  My three-year-old is already reaching for my laptop screen and the television screen from time to time and trying to swipe icons or change channels by pressing the screen.  Her exposure is minimal, but it is developing an expectation of the way we interact with these devices.  It seems that the paradigm paralysis that so many of the adults struggle with in adopting the new technologies (the paralysis that has kept some of the technology at bay due to lack of serious adoption by a large percentage of the population) is also shifting to a period of exponential change as young people not only accept but expect this technology to be a part of their working and educational worlds.

I have long argued that the failure of our educational system to adapt and change to a model that holds relevance to our customers (the students that attend our schools and the parents that expect the best from our schools) places us in a position where one innovation may entirely invalidate the need for a public educational system.  For several nights now I've laid in bed and marveled at the concept that my children received gifts that may be one or two generations away from being the tools that make public education entirely irrelevant, primarily because these tools are entirely customizable to the individual and because they can be accessed at any time or any place.  These are the things we know our public schools need to do to advance, but it is the paradigm paralysis of the adults that forces us closer and closer to the edge of extinction, while young, innocent children are introduced to the tools that will educate them in the future.  It is almost eerie to consider!

Hopefully some key players in education also had a similar experience this holiday season and are starting to see the writing on the wall.  Perhaps we'll come back to 2011 invigorated and motivated to actually do something about making our educational system once again relevant.