Technology's Relevance Change Your Life and Make It Awesome
"Technology in the long-run is irrelevant". That is what a customer of mine told me when I made a presentation to him about a new product. I had been talking about the product's features and benefits and listed "state-of-the-art technology" or something to that effect, as one of them. That is when he made his statement. I realized later that he was correct, at least within the context of how I used "Technology" in my presentation. But I began thinking about whether he could be right in other contexts as well.
What is Technology?
Merriam-Webster defines it as:
a: the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area: engineering 2 <medical technology>
b: a capability given by the practical application of knowledge <a car's fuel-saving technology>
A manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge
: the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor <educational technology>
Wikipedia defines it as:
Technology (from Greek τÎχνη, techne, "art, skill, cunning of hand"; and -λογÎ¯α, -logia) is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, including machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures. Technologies significantly affect human as well as other animal species' ability to control and adapt to their natural environments. Gadgets and the term can either be applied generally or to specific areas: examples include construction technology, medical technology, and information technology.
Both definitions revolve around the same thing - application and usage.
Technology is an enabler
Many people mistakenly believe it is technology which drives innovation. Yet from the definitions above, that is clearly not the case. It is opportunity which defines innovation and technology which enables innovation. Think of the classic "Build a better mousetrap" example taught in most business schools. You might have the technology to build a better mousetrap, but if you have no mice or the old mousetrap works well, there is no opportunity and then the technology to build a better one becomes irrelevant. On the other hand, if you are overrun with mice then the opportunity exists to innovate a product using your technology.
Another example, one with which I am intimately familiar, are consumer electronics startup companies. I've been associated with both those that succeeded and those that failed. Each possessed unique leading edge technologies. The difference was opportunity. Those that failed could not find the opportunity to develop a meaningful innovation using their technology. In fact to survive, these companies had to morph oftentimes into something totally different and if they were lucky they could take advantage of derivatives of their original technology. More often than not, the original technology wound up in the scrap heap. Technology, thus, is an enabler whose ultimate value proposition is to make improvements to our lives. In order to be relevant, it needs to be used to create innovations that are driven by opportunity.
Technology as a competitive advantage?
Many companies list a technology as one of their competitive advantages. Is this valid? In some cases yes, but In most cases no.
Technology develops along two paths - an evolutionary path and a revolutionary path.
A revolutionary technology is one which enables new industries or enables solutions to problems that were previously not possible. Semiconductor technology is a good example. Not only did it spawn new industries and products, but it spawned other revolutionary technologies - transistor technology, integrated circuit technology, microprocessor technology. All which provide many of the products and services we consume today. But is semiconductor technology a competitive advantage? Looking at the number of semiconductor companies that exist today (with new ones forming every day), I'd say not. How about microprocessor technology? Again, no. Lots of microprocessor companies out there. How about quad core microprocessor technology? Not as many companies, but you have Intel, AMD, ARM, and a host of companies building custom quad core processors (Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, etc). So again, not much of a competitive advantage. Competition from competing technologies and easy access to IP mitigates the perceived competitive advantage of any particular technology. Android vs iOS is a good example of how this works. Both operating systems are derivatives of UNIX. Apple used their technology to introduce iOS and gained an early market advantage. However, Google, utilizing their variant of Unix (a competing technology), caught up relatively quickly. The reasons for this lie not in the underlying technology, but in how the products made possible by those technologies were brought to market (free vs. walled garden, etc.) and the differences in the strategic visions of each company.
Evolutionary technology review is one which incrementally builds upon the base revolutionary technology. But by it's very nature, the incremental change is easier for a competitor to match or leapfrog. Take for example wireless cellphone technology. Company V introduced 4G products prior to Company A and while it may have had a short term advantage, as soon as Company A introduced their 4G products, the advantage due to technology disappeared. The consumer went back to choosing Company A or Company V based on price, service, coverage, whatever, but not based on technology. Thus technology might have been relevant in the short term, but in the long term, became irrelevant.
In today's world, technologies tend to quickly become commoditized, and within any particular technology lies the seeds of its own death.
This article was written from the prospective of an end customer. From a developer/designer standpoint things get murkier. The further one is removed from the technology, the less relevant it becomes. To a developer, the technology can look like a product. An enabling product, but a product nonetheless, and thus it is highly relevant. Bose uses a proprietary signal processing technology to enable products that meet a set of market requirements and thus the technology and what it enables is relevant to them. Their customers are more concerned with how it sounds, what's the price, what's the quality, etc., and not so much with how it is achieved, thus the technology used is much less relevant to them.
Recently, I was involved in a discussion on Google+ about the new Motorola X phone. A lot of the people on those posts slammed the phone for various reasons - price, locked boot loader, etc. There were also plenty of knocks on the fact that it didn't have a quad-core processor like the S4 or HTC One which were priced similarly. What they failed to grasp is that whether the manufacturer used 1, 2, 4, or 8 cores in the end makes no difference as long as the phone can deliver a competitive (or even best of class) feature set, functionality, price, and user experience. The iPhone is one of the most successful phones ever produced, and yet it runs on a dual-core processor. It still delivers one of the best user experiences on the market. The features that are enabled by the technology are what are relevant to the consumer, not the technology itself.
The relevance of technology therefore, is as an enabler, not as a product feature or a competitive advantage, or any myriad of other things - an enabler. Looking at the Android operating system, it is an impressive piece of software technology, and yet Google gives it away. Why? Because standalone, it does nothing for Google. Giving it away allows other companies to use their expertise to build products and services which then act as enablers for Google's products and services. To Google, that's where the real value is.
The possession of or access to a technology is only important for what it enables you to do - create innovations which solve problems. That is the real relevance of technology.
Does Technology Benefit Young Children's Education?
As parents, all of us have fought the battle with our kids as they are absorbed into a video game or movie on an iPad, tablet or smartphone. We've had a better chance of getting the attention of Tom Cruise walking the red carpet than our kids.
Today, it's common for two-year-olds to be using iPads, elementary schoolers hooked up to video games, and we all suffer (or live with) the challenge of prying your middle-schooler away from the computer long enough to eat a decent meal...
Technology is everywhere and its draw on kids is obvious, but is technology helping our kids learn?
Technology is becoming more social, adaptive, and customized, and as a result, it can be a fantastic teaching tool. That stated, as parents, we need to establish boundaries.
Today, software is connecting kids to online learning communities, tracking kids' progress through lessons and games, and customizing each students' experience.
By the time your child is in elementary school, they will probably well-versed in technology.
Learning with Technology at School
Schools are investing more and more in technology. Whether your child's class uses an interactive Smartboard, laptops, or another device, here are three ways to make sure that technology is used effectively.
Young children love playing with technology, from iPads to digital cameras. What do early childhood practitioners - and parents, too - need to think about before handing kids these gadgets?
Let's start at the beginning: what is technology in early childhood?
Technology can be as simple as a camera, audio recorder, music player, TV, DVD player, or more recent technology like iPads, tablets, and smartphones used in child care centers, classrooms, or at home.
More than once, I've had teachers tell me, "I don't do technology." I ask them if they've ever taken a digital photo of their students, played a record, tape, or DVD, or give kids headphones to listen to a story.
Teachers have always used technology. The difference is that now teachers are using really powerful tools like iPads and iPhones in their personal and professional lives.
Technology is just a tool
It shouldn't be used in classrooms or child care centers because it's cool, but because teachers can do activities that support the healthy development of children.
Teachers are using digital cameras - a less flashy technology than iPads - in really creative ways to engage children in learning. That may be all they need.
At the same time, teachers need to be able to integrate technology into the classroom or child care center as a social justice matter.
We can't assume that all children have technology at home.
A lack of exposure could widen the digital divide - that is, the gap between those with and without access to digital technology - and limit some children's school readiness and early success.
Just as all children need to learn how to handle a book in early literacy, they need to be taught how to use technology, including how to open it, how it works, and how to take care of it.
Experts worry that technology is bad for children.
There are serious concerns about children spending too much time in front of screens, especially given the many screens in children's lives.
Today, very young children are sitting in front of TVs, playing on iPads and iPhones, and watching their parents take photos on a digital camera, which has its own screen.
There used to be only the TV screen
That was the screen we worried about and researched for 30 years.
We as a field know a whole lot about the impact of TV on children's behavior and learning, but we know very little about all the new digital devices.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen time for children under two years old, but the NAEYC/Fred Rogers position statement takes a slightly different stance.
It says that technology and media should be limited, but what matters most is how it is used.
What is the content?
Is it being used in an intentional manner?
Is it developmentally appropriate?
As parents, we need to be aware of the drawbacks of technology and its impact on eyesight, vocabulary and physical development. We also need to be cognizant of our kids overall development,
My advice to teachers and parents is to trust your instincts. You know your child and if you think they have been watching the screen too long, turn it off.
It's up to us, as parents, to notice that your child's computer time is reducing or limiting interactions and playtime with other kids and nudge them in new directions. To encourage them to be physically active, to get outside and play.
It's also up to the adult to understand the child's personality and disposition and to figure out if a technology is one of the ways the child chooses to interact with the world.
At the same time, cut yourself some slack.
We all know that there are better things to do with children's time than to plop them in front of a TV, but we also know that child care providers have to make lunch, and parents need time to take a shower.
In situations like that, it is the adult's job to make the technology time more valuable and interactive by asking questions and connecting a child's virtual experience on the screen with real-life experiences in her world.
Learning with Technology at Home
Whether you're giving your child your smart screen phone to entertain them, or it's your toddlers' preferred playtime is on an iPad or tablet, here are eight ways to make sure your child's experiences with technology are educational and fun.
Focus on Active Engagement
Any time your child is engaged with a screen, stop a program, or mute the commercials, and ask engaging questions. What was that character thinking? Why did the main character do that? What would you have done in that situation?
Allow for Repetition DVDs and YouTube videos add an essential ingredient for young minds which is repetition. Let your young child to watch the same video over and over, and ask him what he noticed after each viewing.
Make it Tactile Unlike computers that require a mouse to manipulate objects on the screen, iPads, tablets and smartphones allow kids manipulate "physical" objects with their fingers.
Practice Problem Solving An emerging category of games will force your child to solve problems as they play, potentially building concentration and analytical skills in the process; although the jury is still out on this. There is no clinical data that supports the marketing message of app makers.
Encourage Creation Use technology for creation, not just entertainment. Have your child record a story on your iPod, or sing a song into your video game system. Then, create an entirely new sound using the playback options, slow down and speed up their voice and add different backgrounds and beats until they've created something uniquely theirs.
Show Him How to Use It Many computer games have different levels and young children may not know how to move up or change levels. If your child is stuck on one level that's become too easy, ask if he knows how to move up and help him if he wants more of a challenge.
Ask Why If your child is using an app or game the "wrong" way, always pressing the incorrect button, for example, ask them why. It may be that they like hearing the noise the game makes when they get the question wrong, or they might be stuck and can't figure out which group of objects match number four.
Focus on Play Young kids should be exploring and playing with technology. This should be considered play, and not a focus on drilling skills.
Ask For Your Own Log-In Often, school programs come with a parent log-in that will allow you to see your child's progress. If it doesn't, ask to see the reports that a teacher has access to. Then, check his progress every few weeks. It's a great way for you and your child to be on the same page about their progress.
Ask About Teacher Training Technology is often implemented in classrooms without appropriate professional development. If your child's classroom is using a whole-class system, such as Clickers or an Interactive Smartboard, ask how it's used in class and what training the teacher has had. "As a parent, you want to know if teachers feel well trained and they're putting [new technologies] to good use.
Find Parent Resources One of the best ways that technology can help your child is by helping you learn more about learning.
Computers, smartphones, and tablets aren't going away, but with a few tweaks and consideration, you can make your child's technology-time productive, educational, and fun!
Let's be honest. Most children can use a mouse, open and close apps, and even search the internet by the time they are three years old.
Once they have the cognitive ability, it's time to talk with your child about internet safety.
Set clear guidelines and internet safety rules about what types of media are acceptable and carefully support and monitor your child's technology use.
Tell your child to never share her name, address, or personal information online or on social media.
Talk with your child about what to do if he comes across inappropriate content (close the screen and alert you), and make sure you have a high-quality web filter and security system in place.
Wrapping it Up
Help your child understand that technology is just one of many tools for learning. Download educational games, read books and conduct research. When your child asks a question, conduct an Internet search to find the answer.
Before you press the off button, consider the ways that you can maximize your child's technology time at home and school.