The 4-Year-Old and Her Grandma

Why 'Unlearning' Old Concepts Can Be Harder Than Learning New Ones

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Craig Daitch Craig Daitch
My wife and I are the proud parents of a beautiful just-turned-4-year-old daughter. She shares a number of hand-me-down traits from our collective gene pools -- she's a little shy, personable when she's warmed up to you and absolutely loves tapping into her creativity. And though I adore her inherent curiosity, I'm even more amazed by her rapid capability to learn new behaviors.

So you could imagine for someone in my position, with an exhaustive playground of technology and gadgetry scattered throughout my house, what kind of impact that has on a child. We've always subscribed to a different philosophy though, even when she was still crawling: At no point would we discourage her from satisfying her desire to understand how things work and the purposes they serve. Yes, even at the shortened lifespan of my toys. Sure this has resulted in a few spills of juice on my MacBook and I still cringe when I hear my iPod hit the hardwood floor but I rebound quickly, knowing that it's all in the name of learning.

And learning she is. In fact while I sit here typing this blog post, I find myself in a spellbound wonder-coma as I watch her expand and contract pictures from her birthday party on my iPod Touch.

"Daddy can you help me e-mail these to Grandma and Papa?"

What comes so simply natural for her -- to expand, contract and move images is the bane to my parent's existence and it amazes me to no end to observe the contrastingly different approaches to technology between their respective generations.

For example, during her birthday party a few weeks ago we decided to break out a game of Wii Tennis. Taking a racket, we hit the ball back and forth to each other with surprising consistency. Smiling, my mother wanted a chance at playing as well. Even after an intensive lesson on how to use the Wii controller, my mom was quickly taken down by my little Venus Williams. Frustrated, she threw her hands up in the air and officially retired from her Nintendo tennis career after only a few short minutes.

"It's too hard," my mother said. "I don't understand why I can't just click the buttons instead of waving it around."

Flabbergasted, I pointed to my daughter, who at this point had moved on to master the art of Wii baseball.

And then it dawned on me. The technology itself isn't difficult to understand. In fact, Nintendo makes it painfully obvious that they intend to casualize the console. There is very little to retain when using a Wii. What is difficult, is the "unlearning" process. In fact I'd argue that "unlearning" is far more cumbersome than "learning." Through the eyes of my mom, I've handed her a remote control -- one that looks very similar to the same remote she may have at her house that she uses to change the channels on her television. Her use of a TV remote is a learned, patterned behavior, unbreakable and obviously indistinguishable from a product of similar form factor.

The very same remote however is distinguished by my daughter instantly. In fact from her perspective there is very little the two share in common.

What's the point of my post? Well, when we in this industry of ours approach a new medium, we tend to focus on the variables of reach and adoption. In a sea of early adopters, we forget that there are those in our audience who have the dual tasks of not only embracing a new behavior but unlearning an additional one. We owe it to the brands we represent, to set our expectations correctly.

Yes we want to innovate, but with innovation comes the responsibility of education as well.
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