“Sociological experiment” with children using mobile devices

An Australian psychologist suggests we don’t quite know what will happen with lots of young children now using tablets and other electronics:

Research indicates that almost half of all toddlers up to two years old have played with a mobile device. It also reveals that 15 per cent of that group can also operate a home entertainment system. That rises to 31 per cent of three- to five-year-olds and a third of six- to eight-year-olds.

The study of 750 adults across Australia who have an internet connection included questions about how children interact with technology and was conducted by media intelligence firm Magna Global.

Most frequently used were iPads (27 per cent for three- to five-year-olds and 43 per cent for six- to eight-year-olds) followed by Wi-Fi-enabled laptops (21 per cent for three- to five-year-olds and 38 per cent for six- to eight-years-olds)…

Jordy Kaufman, a child psychologist and founder of the Swinburne BabyLab, has studied how children interact with devices. ”Given the massive uptake of mobile device use by young kids, we can be said to be engaged in a grand sociological experiment where no one knows what the results will be,” he said.

But he cautions that just because we do not know the outcome, that does not mean the use of devices is negative. There are opportunities for learning from iPads that did not exist before, Dr Kaufman said.

I suppose there are three possible reactions to the situation. Go all in and see the use of mobile electronics as simply part of the progress of the modern world. Americans tend to like progress and new opportunities and these devices certainly fulfill these two requirements. This full usage may occur even with evidence that they don’t contribute much to learning. The opposite reaction is to not allow children access to such devices. To some degree, this is helped by the fact that such devices are not yet completely ubiquitous. But, some may want to wait and see how children respond to mobile devices. And, there is some middle ground where children could use new electronics in moderation alongside more “traditional” activities.

It sounds like we need some sort of randomized experiment to help figure this out. But, we are getting close to a time where it would be really difficult to pull this off.

American suburbs continue to grow

A Bloomberg analysis of recently released Census data shows suburbs continue to grow:

After a five-year slump spurred by the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble, record gasoline prices and deepening poverty, the nation’s largest suburbs showed increasing signs of life in 2012. More than half of the 20 municipalities with the fastest-growing populations between 2010 and 2012 were suburbs, according to U.S. census data compiled by Bloomberg.

That means growing suburban communities will continue to get their share of the approximately $400 billion in funds the federal government annually spends based on population data provided by the Census Bureau. It also points to the durability of the suburban experiment, begun six decades ago on Long Island, New York, even after millions of home foreclosures, greater numbers of single-person households and delays by young adults in starting families.

“Suburbia has become so deeply embedded in the cultural DNA of our nation that it is nearly impossible for us to organize our life on the landscape otherwise,” James Howard Kunstler, author of “The Geography of Nowhere,” a 1994 history of suburbia, said in an e-mail. “We’re just too deep into it to change.”…

“In fast-growing regions, there are signs of suburban revival,” said William Frey, senior demographer at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. “Las Vegas is an example where the suburbs are leading the way back — though well below the heyday of the past.”…

John Logan, a Brown University sociologist, said suburbs remain attractive because “concerns about school quality and crime levels still affect cities more.”

This is an article with an interesting narrative. It begins with the idea that people who thought suburbs would decline were mistaken: they continue to grow. Then, it goes into the idea of the “suburban experiment.” I haven’t seen it quite phrased this way before and it suggests America’s suburbs are unique – and they generally are compared to most countries around the world. But, the term experiment also suggests it could still fail down the road as conditions change. Yet, the context of the article is that even after an economic crisis where gas became more expensive, Americans started driving less, and housing starts dropped quite a bit, the suburbs are still growing. James Howard Kunstler, a well-known critic of suburbs and featured in the film Radiant City, seems resigned to the idea that suburbs are the default in the United States. Does this suggest the social experiment is over? There are also some other odd bits thrown in including a short comparison to population changes in big cities, the idea that suburbs will also get federal funding, the number of poor residents in the suburbs is increasing, and higher rates of growth in the suburbs is linked to growth in the American economy as a whole.

In the end, I’m not sure about how people will respond to this article: the suburbs are growing despite critics and economic issues in the United States…and we should be happy? Disappointed? Intrigued by this great American experiment?

An interesting social experiment: restrict social media access at a college for a week

Social media is ever-present on college campuses. It appears that some institutions are thinking about ways to encourage thinking about using social media – by restricting it:

Professors have experimented with assigning technology fasts for their students—by discouraging gadget use for five days, for example, or rewarding extra credit for a semester without Facebook.

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is going one step further with a “social-media blackout.” Starting Monday, the Pennsylvania institution will block Facebook, Twitter, AOL Instant Messenger, and MySpace on the campus network for a week. Faculty and staff members will be affected as well as students.

“Telling students to imagine a time before Facebook is like telling them to imagine living in a world with dinosaurs,” said Eric D. Darr, Harrisburg’s executive vice president and provost. “It’s not real. What we’re doing is trying to make it real.”

Ah, equating life with no social media with the age of dinosaurs – this is quite funny (though probably accurate).

When I first saw this headline, I thought this school might be doing this to help students to use the time they might spend on social media in other ways. To discover the world outside of Facebook. Alas, the school has other aims:

Mr. Darr said his hope is that people…would take the week to reflect on outside-the-box ways to use social media—such as for entrepreneurship or political advocacy.

So the goal in restricting social media use is to help people think about social media use? And I was hoping for a social experiment where students might discover other virtuous things to do with their time…