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Digital Natives

Yet today that seems to have changed, simply by the ubiquity thrust upon the current generation of children. Computers, in the looser definition of the word that includes smart phones, tablets, traditional PCs, interactive video players, GPS devices, game consoles, and a host of other consumer and business tools and toys, are everywhere. Our car stereos become speakerphones and road maps on demand. We even use touchscreens to order lunch at deli chains and burrito joints. Living a day free of interaction with a computer is now much more difficult than it was for the first digital cohort.

Quantifying the impact of this generational shift is difficult, if not downright impossible. But we can garner quite a bit of insight from the anecdotal experiences we have with our own children today. I am a father of two wonderful sons, ages four and six. As you can imagine, given my geekish tendencies and a career centered on being up to date on some of the most advanced technologies around, my home is replete with the latest gadgets – everything from the run-of-the-mill consumer electronics to quad copters and 3D printers.

Amongst the most prized of those gadgets (from the perspective of my six-year-old at least) are the video game consoles. We have a Wii, a Playstation, and most notably for this story, an Xbox with the Kinect attachment, hooked into the surprisingly modest-sized television in the living room. (I’ve never been a prime time TV or sports addict, so a TV bigger than the 37-inch LCD is one of those things I occasionally think of grabbing, but never bother to.)

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Xbox with Kinect allows you to eschew the traditional joystick and instead use gestures to control the game. No controllers. No remotes. Just stand in front of the three-eyed digital camera contraption and it senses where your head, heads, feet, etc., are and where they are moving to. The resulting paths of motion are translated by the console into swipes that slide content along the screen, kicks that send virtual soccer balls flying, and (thanks to some munificent math by game designers) Olympic-record-breaking long jumps you’d never be capable of in real life.

The Kinect is not the only sensing device on the market. The video below highlights another one, the Leap Motion:

This video shows the power of these devices firsthand. Like the Kinect, like the multi-touch screens of the iPhone, iPad, Androids, and other devices, the Leap Motion captures far more than just the location of a single dot. Instead it maps a wide variety of motions onto a map of intended actions. It attempts to allow for natural gestures to become the language in which we communicate with our computers.

It’s not uncommon these days for kids to experience computing without the traditional tethers of keyboard and mouse, or even remote controls and game controllers. These novel, unwired interfaces are not only coming to market, they are on the verge of becoming ubiquitous.

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