The Importance Of Unplugging In A World Of Connected Toys

The Importance Of Unplugging In A World Of Connected Toys
Children

DFRobot's CEO Ricky Ye discusses how children must continue to learn and play with products that teach skills of both the physical and virtual world

PSFK Op-Eds
  • 4 september 2017

Humans are obsessed with internet connectivity. In fact, according to a recent study by research company Dscout, the typical cell phone user touches their phone 2,617 times every day—and extreme cellphone users (meaning the top 10 percent) touch their phones more than 5,400 times per day. This obsession has reached even our littlest humans, with 80 percent of children under the age of five using the internet weekly in the United States. As a matter of fact, a recent survey by Common Sense Media, found that 40 percent of children use iPads before they even utter their first word – and parents are becoming concerned about the potential consequences of our children spending more time in virtual worlds.

A Society Obsessed with Connectivity  But at What Cost? 

It’s clear that our fascination with the technological tools that connect us to the internet has progressed from curious to obsessive. In fact, in response to the demand for even more smart toys and tools, DFRobot is predicting a future in which every single toy will be internet-connected, with intelligence built in that allows these toys to talk, listen and move alongside a child.

While technology has created undeniable cultural advancements and given us the ability to reach far outside the human grasp, it is important that we remember to unplug every once in a while – and even more important that we teach our children to do the same.

A recent Oxford study found that, as technology continues to progress, workers are becoming more susceptible to being replaced by computers, with 47 percent of current jobs at risk. The study concluded that, for workers of the future (aka our children) to succeed in their career of choice and outwit computers and robots, they will need to increase their creative and social skills.

To teach our children the value of technology without losing sight of the importance of interacting with the physical world, teachers must incorporate fun, play and creativity in the classroom. In fact, many of the largest and most successful businesses today practice the 20 percent rule – allowing employees to devote 20 percent of their work time to thinking creatively and exploring new ideas. By fostering a creative and playful environment in the classroom, our teachers have the ability to nurture key skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, imagination, communication and agility that will ensure our chilren’s success in a progressive world.

Continuous Internet Connection is Causing a Disconnect 

Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher at the College of William and Mary, found that – since 1990 – children have been less able to come up with unique ideas (here’s a link to the study). With smart toys and robotic tools teaching them everything from the alphabet to mathematical equations, their creativity is at risk. And while a robot is certainly equipped to teach basic lessons, it cannot detect if a child is on the brink of a new idea or thinking about just the right words with which to ask a question.

It is a child’s parent or teacher that typically nurtures this curiosity and monitors their progress emotionally. Interaction with peers also encourages children to play make-believe and come up with stories and games that stretch the limits of their imagination. And while virtual reality can make a dream world come to life, we cannot forget to encourage children’s raw and authentic play in order to help develop their imagination. 

On the other hand, the integration of technology into our children’s lives has many positives. STEM education has made incredible advancements in recent years, and with easy-to-use products like the Boson Kit, the first coding-free set of electronic blocks that turns nearly anything imagined into an Internet-connected device, whether it’s a walking robot or an electronic candle, children are mastering tech skills at a very early eage.

However, finding a balance is key. If we continue to progress in STEM education, but hinder the unlimited possibilities of a child’s imagination, then we are doing a disservice to our youth — just think of where the world would be today without creative leaders like Walt Disney who envisioned a mouse companion that went on to revolutionize the world of animation.

Real Play in the Real World

There is no way we can entirely stop children from playing virtual games—nor would we want to—but we do need to encourage children to continue to play games in the physical world (and to experience what it feels like to climb a tree).

Edtech companies like Osmo and Marbotic have set out to create products that address the concern of many parents around teaching their children to interact with technology while also encouraging hands-on play. In attempts to find this delicate balance, Vortex is another example of a product that was designed as a interactive toy for children that encourages them to both program and play with their own robot. This teaches them basic tech skills while tapping into their creativity as they play with the pieces on and off screen. It is crucial to the future of game play that more and more companies master the practice of incorporating both tech and physical components in smart toys.

One day soon, all toys will be internet-connected, and by keeping sight of the hands-on component of game play, adults can empower children to choose when they want to utilize the internet and when they would rather rely on their imagination to play. Edtech companies must lead the way by creating products that encourage children to both learn and play with smart toys that teach skills of both the physical and virtual world. Incorporating physical play is vital to encouraging our youth to go out and explore the real world.

Ricky Ye is the CEO of DFRobot, a robotics and open source hardware provider that is dedicated to creating innovative, user-friendly products that foster a strong community of learning.

Humans are obsessed with internet connectivity. In fact, according to a recent study by research company Dscout, the typical cell phone user touches their phone 2,617 times every day—and extreme cellphone users (meaning the top 10 percent) touch their phones more than 5,400 times per day. This obsession has reached even our littlest humans, with 80 percent of children under the age of five using the internet weekly in the United States. As a matter of fact, a recent survey by Common Sense Media, found that 40 percent of children use iPads before they even utter their first word – and parents are becoming concerned about the potential consequences of our children spending more time in virtual worlds.

+Augmented & Virtual Reality
+children
+connectivity
+disney
+Education
+gaming
+Gaming & Play
+Innovation
+internet
+IoT
+Market Research
+mobile
+op-ed
+technology
+USA
+Virtual Reality
+work

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