Why the Nexus 4 is a Great First Computer for Kids


The post-PC world is already dumbing young people down. Way down.

I’m hearing accounts by hiring managers that new applicants right out of school often lack not only basic “computing” skills (for example, they don’t really know how to do a Google search), but they lack the imagination, creativity or curiosity to even learn those skills.

There may be multiple causes for this phenomenon, but I’m here to throw the post-PC world under the school bus.

The Great Delusion

There’s a common delusion that existed since home computers first came on the market, which is that using a computer teaches kids about computers.

I’ll never forget the look of satisfaction I’ve seen on the face of some non-technical teachers watching their students typing a story on a PC and believing that kids using computers “prepares them for a high-tech workforce.”

Nowadays, teens, kids and even toddlers are using tablets and phones at ever younger ages. Teachers and parents marvel at their skill with these devices and believe falsely that this builds a foundation for science or technology.

In fact, it does the opposite. It prepares them to be passive consumers and users of consumer products and their apps.

The problem is increased with post-PC devices, info appliances like the iPhone and iPad, which are the default devices that many parents are giving their kids.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the post PC world. I just don’t think the easy-to-use, locked-down, our-way-or-the-highway iOS platform is good for young minds.

Post-PC Breeds Passivity

One of the most underappreciated ironies in technology is found in the history of Apple.

The company started with Steve Wozniak building what was arguably the world’s first personal computer, the Apple II. Before that he build the Apple I, which was more of a computer for other hackers.

Woz was and is a super-genius. His first two Apple computers were marvels of efficiency and simplicity in the use of components (which lowered the cost).

Woz was able to invent the future because he had a hacker mentality, that combination of burning curiosity, patience and creativity that enables people to figure things out though epic trial-and-error. He was a tweaker, solderer, tester, reverse-engineer, dumpster diver and code experimenter.

The irony is that the company that this super-hacker co-founded would evolve into the company that’s evolving toward unhackable products. (You can still jailbreak an iPhone, but for how long?)

But jailbreak or no, the fact is that kids raised on iOS are unlikely to develop an appreciation of what’s possible with technology. It drives them to become consumers of apps and accessories where every problem is solved by downloading someone else’s app.

And the effects of this are being seen now as Post-PC kids are entering the workforce. These kids grew up in a world in which consumer electronics hand them everything on a platter.

We do have options for kids who are naturally inspired to explore and hack with technologies. And it helps enormously when parents and schools facilitate these impulses by making the right kinds of resources available.

But the default mode now is that kids see their parents using phones. They beg them to try it. Parents hand them the phone and that’s where the trouble begins. They learn right away that technology is a black box, a magic place to shop for passive entertainment.

The most extreme version of this mode is the iPhone. But the best Android phones aren’t far behind. The Samsungs and the HTC Ones all custom design a user interface designed with the same purpose in mind as the iOS interface — to push entertainment, social networking and shopping at the user and distract the user from the fact that they could be exploring the machine itself and figuring out how it works.

And that’s one reason why a Nexus 4 is a nice option for kids’ first “computer.”

3 Reasons Why a Nexus 4 is a Great First ‘Computer’

There are three reasons why the Nexus 4 is a great first phone or even first computer.

The first is that it’s a fun device to use. It has a big screen and appealing design. (Do get a protective case for it.) Kids will like it. And it’s important that kids are excited about their personally owned technology.

The second reason is that it’s cheap. At $300 unlocked, it won’t be such a big disaster if it’s lost, stolen or broken.

And the third and best reason is that the Nexus 4 is less likely to turn your child into an airhead than an iPhone or another phone with a handset-maker designed interface.

The Google-designed user interface invites customization, for starters. Customization can be a gateway drug to exploration and hacking.

If a child is inclined to follow curiosity about the device, they can go pretty far with a Nexus 4 because it’s rootable, ROMable and therefore hackable.

The combination of owning a Nexus 4 and a parent that nudges that kid toward online information for how to modify, optimize, customize, alter and ultimately hack their phone will truly give kids an early advantage over kids handed in iPhone and told to go shopping.

Later, if you get them a laptop of some kind, don’t give them the home WiFi password. Tell them if they want Internet connectivity they need to root their Nexus and figure out tethering.

Software that actively encourages coding and hacking is great. But there’s no substitution for simply leaving a curious kid alone with a hackable device and letting that child explore unguided.

Who knows? Maybe your kid will grow up to found the next Apple. After all, the Apples of the world are started by hackers, not kids who grew up on today’s Apple.