Watch this delightful video of a baby being confused by a magazine. (You've probably already seen it, come to think of it.)
It's been commented on, linked to, etc., in a variety of places. It claims to show a baby figuring out how to use an iPad, then being confused when the same gestures don't work on a print magazine. "The video shows how magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives," one post says.
At the end of the video, a caption declares,
For my 1 year old daughter, a magazine is an iPad that does not work.
It will remain so for her whole life.
Steve Jobs has coded a part of her OS.
The baby is really cute, the parents seem proud that she's able to figure out the iPad so quickly (look! Now that exclusive kindergarten will admit her! Her future is assured!), and the whole thing is played as an example of how, thanks to growing up with all these cool technologies, digital natives have profoundly different ideas about the world.
It feels kind of like I'm kicking a sweet-tempered, crippled puppy to point out that the video is a petting zoo of misunderstandings about our interaction with technology.
Let's start at the beginning. First off, babies play with categories, and experiment with their world all the time. Sometimes this has humorous results. When I was in college, one of my friends was babysitting her professor's toddler. The delightful tot looked at me when I came in the room, and said, very clearly, "Dada!"
Naturally, Luise and I both thought this was hilarious. Professor Baby then pointed at Luise's little dorm room refrigerator and said, just as clearly, "Dada!"
This is what babies do: they call things by funny names, or try out naming things and see how we react. The fact that Professor Baby called me and the refrigerator "Dada" did not mean that she was experimenting with heteronormative ideas about family structure, or declaring a cybernetic kinship with the drink-chilling appliance, or commenting on the fluidity of the boundary between people and machines. She either wanted to see how we would react, or she had recently learned the word "dada" and, like any owner of a cool new thing, wanted to use it.
So how much does a baby's world view (or cute misunderstanding) tell us about The Future of Things? Very little. Will the girl in question never, ever understand how magazines or printed media work? Will they forever remain inaccessible and uninteresting? In other words, will her year-old world view be the one that shapes her ideas about media forever? Extremely unlikely.
The other thing that's problematic here is the idea that "Steve Jobs has coded a part of her OS." Let's leave aside the idea that minds are like operating systems, and let other people have that debate. Why is this something good? Why is it cute that a toddler can have their ideas about reality shaped by a CEO (albeit one that everyone, myself included, has some pretty strong, positive feelings about these days)? Would it be just as good if the CEO of Wal Mart, or the head of Goldman Sachs, or Hu Jintao, had "coded a part of her OS?"
Now, I get the syllogism at work here: Steve Jobs was a genius; my baby is being programmed by Steve Jobs; therefore, my baby is a genius. Note, though, how logically disconnected it actually is.
And why is it notable and good to have any part of your brain or mind that strongly shaped by a corporation? I think the assumption at work here is that this kind of thing is inevitable, and it's just good taste on her parents' part that it's Steve Jobs who's tuning up the toddler's brain, rather than Bill Gates or Meg Whitman. (Babies whose parents don't love them give them Windows tablets.)
Okay, enough puppy kicking for the moment. Time to see how my wife's new iPhone is doing.