A generation of kids is now growing up with a deluge of new screens, new technologies, and new tools that are perfectly set up to help stimulate kids’ natural creative instincts. But these devices can equally be used for passive consumption of media and entertainment. Every time I see our kids walk up to the TV and try to swipe through content wishing it to be a giant iPad, I realize that they’re begging to be able to participate and create with media.
We can determine the direction of our children. We need to help facilitate a shift toward helping kids become their own content creators, not just content consumers. For this shift to happen we need to invest in better stories, better technology tools, and better education.
For years, stories have been predominately linear push communications. Elite storytelling auteurs would weave their masterful tales. The great stories were devoured page-by-page, scene-by-scene by an engrossed, yet passive audience. However, kids growing up now will never know this purely passive form of content consumption. Parents and the media industry need to stimulate a new form of storytelling. We need stories that invite participation, remixing, mashing-up, playing, and creating. These types of stories are a great way to help kids find and understand their place in the world. As kids play with their stories, the more they discover themselves. Through triggering key capabilities like role playing and imagination, kids can more clearly see their place in the society around them.
We need better tools to create this playful nature of storytelling through technology. Fortunately, technology has never been more flexible, accessible, or scalable. With a device like the iPad, we have an amazing shared platform that begs for participation and collaboration. Yet these hardware devices need to be populated with software tools for creating content as much as for consumption. How many parents have lent their smartphone to their kids only to return two minutes later to find 800 new photos taken? This is children wanting to express themselves through technology. We’re right on the cusp of seeing kids being able to create their own movies, games, books, photos, toys, and magazines. The tools need to continue to evolve to help fuel this form of self-expression, creation, and storytelling.
So why do we not see more collaborative stories and creative tools for kids? Simply put: There is lack of understanding on the part of mass media companies on how to involve kids in their media. They aren’t set up to make collaborative and social stories. Mass media isn’t particularly good at quick technology development of creative tools that facilitate this participation. This lack of understanding and education on the potential for technology to improve a child’s life will ultimately lead our kids to be passive consumers of content when they could just as easily be content creators. The smart and progressive media companies are just now starting to loosen the reigns on their intellectual property to allow kids to create and play with their characters and stories.
Ultimately, it’s up to the parents, the media makers, and the developers, to lead the charge for this new generation of content creating kids. With new forms of collaborative storytelling, new technology tools, and better education, we can help raise a generation of naturally curious and creative thinking kids, powered by new technology. Next time you’re reading Curious George for the hundredth time or watching a Pixar movie you can honestly say, “my kid could make this.”