Five Year Old Not Included

By Rosemary Young (August, 1997)
It's mystifying. Why is it, even with the knowledge that computers are commonly used in the workplace by grown-up people who study distant planets and weather patterns, perform scientific experiments, write, research, and compile company accounts, that so many adults still see computers in the home as being strictly for the kids?

The evidence is everywhere if you keep your ears and eyes open. Computer retailers heavily promote hardware and software packages for educational purposes, parents buy home computers for their children and not for themselves. You might hear in a computer store a mature shopper explaining that the prospective new purchase is certainly not for them, it's for their children's pleasure; and the 'winners' on TV game shows beam ecstatically when it's announced that their lucky prize is the latest Pentium ... "it's just what the kids have been dreaming of". Perish the thought that they might want to have a play on it themselves!

And not only are computers often seen to be the domain of children, but there are still some adults who believe that only children are smart enough to use them. This is even more curious in the light of their use in the workplace. Why is it that a proud parent will watch their four year old randomly press a few keys, jiggle the joystick or push the mouse and conclude that their offspring has taken to computers like a fish to water? Nothing in particular happens, of course, on such an occasion, and the child would unlikely be able to do anything more than play a simple children's game. Still, within the space of a few seconds children can become 'experts' in doting eyes. It's interesting to speculate here, would the same parent make the same assessment that their child was a born car driver if he or she jumped into the driver's seat and jiggled the wheel or beeped the horn?

Of course, none of us are immune to being impressed by the achievements of our offspring or, perhaps, our younger siblings or whatever, but why do they so often come up trumps when it comes to computers? Admittedly, there are children who very likely do know more about computers than their parents, but is this because they are children, or is it because they get to use the computer?

All this is a mystery in my eyes, and it must be a problem for the computer industry as well. Especially when hosts on TV 'infotainment shows' shudder at the thought of introducing a segment on buying a computer and humbly ask if a 'child' comes with the package, just in case they get into trouble ...

No time to look into this question here, but it's fascinating the myths that have grown up around the computer industry in such a short time, and in the face of blatant evidence to the contrary. I suspect that computers in the home often come to be seen as the domain of children because they are largely touted as useful for both educational and entertainment purposes (playing games). Of course, it goes without saying that only children get 'educated' :-) and we all know only too well that only kids play computer games!

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997. All rights reserved.