Tell me if this sounds familiar: you are at a family function, or a party of some sort. People brought their kids with them – little ones. The kind that tend to run around and squeal at the top of their lungs for hours on end. Especially if there is cake involved. They get that cake in their system at the end of the night, and suddenly they go from wiped out and ready to sleep to pure bottled madness. So you brace yourself, and practice your “dodge the running child without spilling a beer” move but then the night is quiet. The kids are abnormally well behaved and nowhere to be seen. They are not outside, they are not running around in the kitchen, they are not bumping into things. They are all sitting on the couch. iPod touch in hand playing games or browsing the web.
Meet the mobile generation. Meet the next step in human evolution.
These kids are growing up with multi-touch devices in hand. This is interesting, because it’s is unprecedented. Some of us grew up with mobile gaming platforms – gameboys and such. Sadly, none of these were fully fledged computing platforms. Smart phones and iDevices are. To do anything other than gaming, we had to strap ourselves to a stationary device with mouse and keyboard. These kids just need to reach to their pocket, or be within a range of Wifi. For them these are their primary computing tools, desktops and laptops being secondary.
I often talk about how multi-touch is not all that it has cracked up to be. How the pictures under glass paradigm is not really that functional. But you know what? The youngsters don’t have such hangups. They make it work. Just like our forefathers who were quite handy and efficient on ye old teletype machines, kids these days take the touch paradigm and work the shit out of it. When I watch them use their touch devices, I sometimes feel like an old man. For me, doing anything complex on my phone is a chore. Copying and pasting things between apps or editing text is just a pain in the ass, and I usually just crack open my laptop for that. Not everyone is that way. I actually have met a kid recently for created, and maintained active online presence (a popular Tumblr, Twitter, facebook, etc..) with nothing but an iPhone and 3G connection. And I only know this because there was some glitch in the Tumblr interface at some point that could only be changed via the web interface which just happened not to work properly in mobile Safari.
A lot of people these days consider touch devices to be mainly content consumption devices. But it turns out that people actually use them for content creation. Younger generations somehow train themselves to get good typing speeds on the iPad keyboards and actually maintain short form blogs without a need for a traditional computer. They edit and retouch photos, they create rage comics and publish finger doodles. And soon enough we will have a whole new breed of Photoshop artists who have never actually touched a mouse in an artistic kind of way.
Now to me, experiencing the web through the tiny screen of an iPhone is a tad limiting. It’s liberating, yes – I love to be able to browse Reddit while waiting in line at my favorite food joint at my lunch break, or while taking a stroll. But I would not use it as a primary computing device. It’s my backup – it’s something I use when I’m away from my full size electronic devices. But for many kids touch devices are the preferred internet platforms. They live in the digital world, experiencing it through their hand-held touch devices. And they are almost as efficient at using internet as we are at using our desktops and laptops.
I still maintain that pictures under glass is a dead end. But the future generations are likely to adapt and make it work for them, so it may stick around for a while. Or not. At this point it is hard to tell. Perhaps we will find new ways to explore touch interfaces. Perhaps we will forge ahead with smooth glass interfaces. Or perhaps Google glasses will completely revolutionize mobile computing later this year. Who knows.