Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tablets & the Lake Wobegon Effect

There is good news this holiday season. No more screaming children on planes or in airports! My research indicates that the No Child Left Behind law, a national increase in the Parental Responsibility Index, and the Lake Wobegon Effect--"all the children are above average," have contributed to the rising level of youthful civility. But the primary reason for this change in behavior is the increased use of tablets, especially the iPad, among this demographic group.

I traveled recently through Newark, Denver, and San Francisco airports and heard no sounds of infants mewing and puking in their nurses arms. I boarded various planes and the sweet silence continued. For a moment I thought I was traveling in China where noise pollution, including loud cell phone conversations, is outlawed by the Beijing Criminal Code Z4891.

In San Francisco I stayed with a family with a three-year old. I found it very interesting to watch him spend hours wading through his armada of cars, from a Tonka truck to high-end Porsches, sometimes bent on demolition, then settle in with his iPad to watch Toy Story.  Though he might keep one hand on his garbage truck, he was deeply engaged with the device, suggesting multi-tasking is innate and one less thing his parents have to teach him. But this lean-back experience was a treat to be earned and not a form of baby sitting.

The Econonic Times of India reports that the youth market for the tablet is growing fast. We learned from Forrester than 29% of adults share their tablet devices with their children.  Nielsen has found that the iPad is the most desired gift among 6-12 year olds.  Disney and a handful of startups are developing games and interactive books for this market. As less expensive but quite adequate tablets such as the Kindle Fire become available, there is little reason to think that this demographic will not become an important subset of the overall category with gift written all over it.

Obviously, there is concern about using the tablet as a digital pacifier, much as television has been used since the 1950s.  Parents I have spoken to seem to agree that for children under three it is best to keep their tablet experience to appropriate books.

As is often the case, art is ahead of science. Goodnight iPad, a parody of the popular children's book, Goodnight Moon, is worth viewing on YouTube.  Fittingly this a satire of the devices, the screens, the icons, the pop stars, and the social media shorthand and hipsterism that have penetrated our psyches. Rated R.


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