By Seymour Papert
This learning story was excerpted from The Connected Family: Bridging the Digital
Generation Gap (Longstreet Press, 1996).
My Grandson Ian, aged about three at the time, walked over to a shelf where video
tapes were kept.
He selected one (although he "couldn't read" he could choose the one he
loaded it into the VCR, sat down in a comfortable
armchair, wielded the remote control, uttered a child's expletive I understood
a moment later as meaning he had forgotten to rewind the tape the last time he
had used it, rewound, pressed PLAY and settled in to watch the tape.
The tape was about road making machinery - a topic of great interest to many children,
and not only boys.
My first reaction was to be astounded at the fluency with which Ian did all of
this. Then on reflection I decided there was nothing astonishing in it except
my own astonishment.
What Ian actually did with the mechanics of the technology was no more
complex than some of the operations performed by every three-year-old without
arousing the slightest bit of astonishment.
Yet there was good reason to be astonished.
What impresses me most is not the mechanics of Ian's handling of the VCR but the
content of the experience, and how fundamentally different it was from anything
people my age could do when we were three years old.
When I was three, if I wanted to learn about road machinery, I would be dependent
on adults: whether they had knowledge, storytelling talent, time, inclination
and patience to tell me what I needed to know.
Though I was lucky to have a scientifically educated father who was willing
to spend a lot of time talking with me, my freedom of choice in learning was far
short of what a collection of tapes, CD-ROMS and Web addresses can give a child
This, in turn, is far, far short of what children will have in a few years' time.
And, rest assured, with greater freedom of choice will come a dramatic change
in the way children learn and develop.
(This story is told in Chapter one of The Connected Family)