Finished reading: The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World by Jordan Shapiro

Another break from biology, certainly more towards psychology. This one I found randomly (promoted) at the library and given that it’s my kids' school holidays at the moment and they’re constantly asking for screens, I figured it was worth a shot. To my surprise, by the end of this book I’m encouraged to give my kids more screen time. The big qualifier is the content - the author makes convincing arguments that collaborative games and online chat are the new agora, and that kids growing into that world will need to understand, appreciate, and be able to “read” (“be literate in”) the new medium. I’m not quite convinced that watching YouTube videos of someone playing an extremely basic free game has the same benefit as they propose comes from collaborative gaming or online forums, but I am convinced to start playing Minecraft with my kids.

This book nicely balances historical psychology with up-to-date perspectives. I was surprised to learn that kindergarten (as a concept at all) is only a couple hundred years old. The framing of how previous generations of children have been raised within the applicable social setting (most of us are remnants of the industrial age), plus the entire home vs work distinction breaking down in the new internet-based world makes a lot of sense and encourages me to think about what outdated notions I’m imposing on my own kids, especially how those can be limiting. In my current work I make use of mind maps and collaborative documents - why would I not want my children to use the same useful tools for their education?

The latter sections of the book branched out into much wider social commentary - children are growing up within the evolving technological landscape, so it’s entirely relevant - and I liked several well-made points about why “uninformed inclusion” might actually work against goals; why it’s not sufficient to just connect everyone and hope they’ll be nice; why some people form exclusions against others due to a lack of self-identity; and why online forums are so useful for connecting people, but to the detriment of serendipity.

That last one really hit home - the R community largely calls Twitter home and it’s been a fruitful source of friends, collaborators, and inspiration for me, but I do wonder how much of an echo chamber I’m stuck it. Maybe it’s time to follow some more python and javascript devs.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with children who is uncertain about the amount of screen time they’re getting. Also just a great read for better understanding the new digital world.