Monthly Archives: October 2011

“There’s a nap for that!”: YouTube videos of young children using Apple devices (Part three)

Discussion

As explored in part one and part two of this series of posts, the proliferation of YouTube videos of young children (and sometimes their parents) playing with Apple devices potentially offers a good empirical lens through which to view much broader trends around children and technology, but not without shortcomings.  Certain themes seemed to recur within the aforementioned sample – themes of parents highlighting children as “acting their age,” children as being “exceptional” for their age, or locating the power of transformation within the affordances of the technology itself.  Going forward, a triangulation of research techniques (e.g. interviews with the creators of these videos, home observations, case studies) and a richer analysis is needed to know more about both the role these technologies play in shaping parent-child interactions, and also the role that consuming, creating, and distributing these artifacts play in shaping conceptions of parents/caregivers, children, and their relationships.

As a site of cultural and material exchange, YouTube is a system that both self-organizes hierarchies (e.g. user likes and sharing), but also confers power and status (e.g. recommended videos, featured playlists).  French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1986) expands upon the notion of “capital” as purely monetary or economic, to include social and cultural capital as types of resources well.  Historically, Bourdieu conceptualized a direct relationship between available capital resources and children’s outcomes and achievement in school and out-of-school contexts.  One way to examine the evolving relationship between consumerism, technology, and parenting is to understand these videos as the performance of different types of capital, under Bourdieu’s typology.  The public presentation of the digital YouTube asset speaks to children’s current and future value, visibility, agency, and identity within their families and to a commoditized society as a whole.  Though organized here independently, these forms of capital are deeply intertwined.

The Economics of Nascent Technology and Nascent Beings

As a form of economic capital, these videos were not commercials per say, but they inherently promoted a commercial product.  Some even directly appropriated the genre, form, and camera angles of the Apple television and print ads.  The videos put a face to the oft-disembodied (though primarily identifiably light-skinned) figures in Apple’s U.S. commercials and billboards.  As such, they blended the commercial and the amateur, taking a part in the new Internet “hybrid economies” of the social-network market (Lessig, 2008).

In the spirit of YouTube’s slogan “Broadcast Yourself,” the site allowed for a parent to portray their progeny and their technology as extensions of themselves.  The videos suggest parallel, linear developments in the upgrading of hardware and software with the often staggered development of children.  Phrases to describe this population of children, such as “iGeneration” or “Generation 2.0” employ this rhetoric of nascent technology and nascent beings.

As children outgrow their clothes and toys, a certain demographic of parents in these videos displayed a need to “keep pace,” introducing their children to the newest digital technologies as soon as they came to market.  In The Second Self, Turkle describes how the first generation of personal computers in the 1980s also flourished in part to this generational ambiguity: “Onto such complex and ambivalent images manufacturers project more concrete promises as well: the machine will help Father with his finances, mother with her writing, the children with their schoolwork.  The machine is presented as a way of asserting status, a way of saying that this is someone who has not been left behind” (Turkle, 1984, p. 184).  These videos help us understand the role communications technologies play as both physical and symbolic objects among generations of children and adults.

Social Media and the Home Learning Environment

When we talk about the social impact of these devices and the ways these YouTube videos portray them, it makes sense to talk about the culture that develops around them rather than solely talking about the isolated usefulness of the devises.  The ritualized behavior of children’s play with toys and tools is not just expressive of their problems and conflicts, but also an attempt to work through symbolic solutions (Erikson, 1963).  Solutions can be developed through children’s independent, dependent, and co-configured use (Vygotsky, 1978).  The child’s play as represented in these videos introduces another layer to this independent/dependent dynamic, as other people can only be made aware of the parent-child experience with these devices through the adult’s capturing and dissemination of these moments.  Technology forges a link between the home learning environment and the social media environment.

In terms of intergenerational relationships, educational children’s apps have the potential to transform the device into a tool for practicing pre-literacy skills and hand-eye coordination, as well as provide an opportunity for practicing a conversation about consciousness, feelings, and intentions between parents and children.  Technology use can spur mediated but also interpersonal communication (Fisch, Shulman, Akerman, & Levin, 2002).  Most of the parents in these YouTube videos engaged their children in conversation, and provided praise for their children’s efforts.  There is little evidence that these devices – independent of environmental and contextual factors in childrens’ learning ecologies – are actually improving children’s academic outcomes, social and emotional development, or physical activity.

There was also much in these videos to analyze through the lenses of social and developmental psychology.  Freud, Piaget, and Bandura provide a great deal of insight into the way the children interacted with their parents and the Apple devices in these videos.  To touch briefly and all too shallowly on one such analysis, Jacques Lacan’s Wallon- and Freudian-inspired psychoanalytic mirror stage theory focuses not just on the child’s relation to his or her image or behavior in a mirror, but also the child’s relation to other children as a way of presenting physical mastery in the form of an image or set of behaviors (Lacan, 1977).  In The Second Self, Turkle relates this self-referential mirroring to children and technology to creating “storm centers in the mind” (Turkle, 1984, p. 33).  A baby laughing while watching a video on an iPad of a laughing baby watching another laughing baby on an iPad might create its own cognitive “storm center.”

Cultural Narratives

Within these YouTube videos, children displayed the ability to practice the orientation of their bodies to the Apple devices and gain the class-based advantages of a home digital learning environment at an early age.  The 2.5 year-old in “A 2.5 Year-Old Has A First Encounter with An iPad” already had practice with the touchscreen Apple interface, which was presented as “natural” and without effort in the context of the video.  Bourdieu writes that this advantage of cultural capital via domestic access “has nothing ‘academic’, ‘scholastic’, ‘bookish’, ‘affected’ or ‘studied’ about it, but manifests by its ease and naturalness that true culture is nature – a new mystery of immaculate conception” (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 68).

The videos shape a narrative that children with this enhanced pedigree and privileged cultural capital are natural.  By being introduced at an early age to a “noble” instrument of cultural capital, be it a piano or an iPhone, the bourgeois child bears the least visible marks of inculturation to an industrialized, networked society.  Ellen Seiter traces the legacy of home technology in the middle-class home from computers back to pianos in living rooms.  She writes that such children experience “the privileged role of early domestic learning in gaining the ‘right’ skills, the kind of competence that seems to come naturally and is therefore of higher status than what is learned at an institution such as a public school” (Seiter, 2007, p. 29).  This early exposure to digital technologies at home might have implications for the ability for children to benefit from technology use as adults, be it in the “workforce” (if there any jobs to be had) and/or as lifelong scholars.  These videos, in contrast to the opportunities that most children globally will never have, are evidence of a widening “participation gap” (Jenkins et al, 2006).

Limitations

My analysis is limited by significant methodological shortcomings and theoretical underdevelopment.  Methodologically, my analysis was limited to YouTube videos featuring Apple products.  Other operating systems, such as Android, offer products with similar touch capabilities.  However, Android systems have much greater security flaws and hacking vulnerabilities than iOS, leading to more cautious adoption by developers creating content for young children.  Generally, parents have greater control over the content on their devices using native apps (versus mobile apps or the Internet), of which Apple has the largest share of the market.  My sample was limited to 85 brief videos, thus my findings are not generalizable to the entire population of parents and children using Apple devices, nor even completely representative of this entire somewhat random group of videos.  Each caregiver and child presented in these videos can certainly not be fully personally represented by a single short clip.  The research could also have benefited from a more in depth look at the content of the apps the children used.

Theoretically, the lack of contextual information regarding the parents and children also confounds a thorough understanding of the intended audience of these videos (e.g. known others, family, peers, talent scouts, Apple executives).  I am not privy to the multiple layers of these exchanges, so an analysis of these videos as a form of economic, social, and cultural currency is incomplete.  A sustained class analysis would benefit from a more thorough probing of race and gender, but it would be quite speculative considering the limited information available about the children and parents in the videos via YouTube.  If I were to expand my sample, I would also have to reframe the “children acting their age” section by subcategories to account for developmental stages and milestones over a range of ages (infant to potty training).  There are also richer ways to engage with existing research in the area of parent-child relationships and the mediation of technology, as well literature more broadly on social/technological interfaces and technology consumption, creation, and distribution.

Conclusion

In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins addresses the social protocols that develop around media delivery systems, encompassing “the economic, legal, social and cultural practices that emerge surrounding a new communication medium” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 331).  The role of YouTube and other forms of social media in the home learning environment may shape the protocols around how home videos as a genre are watched, made, and shared.

For children and families, these YouTube videos can provide the ability to remember loved ones and serve as heuristics for childhood memories.  However, as Robert Heverly writes, “Where children are entangled in and become a part of digital media artifacts, we must consider the nature, importance, and future potential of that entanglement when thinking about the creation of and control over those artifacts” (Heverly, 2007, p. 201).  The positive and negative are likely to coexist in what technology does to and with children and, perhaps most importantly, what children do to and with technology, particularly in terms of the creation, distribution, and persistence of digital artifacts.

References

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste.  (R. Nice, Tran.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.) Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241-258). New York: Greenwood. http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/fr/bourdieu-forms-capital.htm

Erikson, E. H. (1963). Toys and reasons. In Childhood and society (pp. 21-108). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Fisch, S. M., Shulman, J. S., Akerman, A., & Levin, G. A. (2002). Reading between the pixels: Parent-child interaction while reading online storybooks. Early Education & Development, 13(4), 435-451.

Foucault, M. (1988). Technologies of the self. In L. H. Martin, H. Gutman, & P. H. Hutton (Eds.), Technologies of the self (pp. 16-49). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.

Heverly, R. A. (2007). Growing up digital: Control and the pieces of a digital life. In T. McPherson (Ed.), Digital youth, innovation, and the unexpected. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning (pp. 199-218). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lacan, J. (1977). Écrits: A selection.  (A. Sheridan & B. Fink, Trans.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Lessig, L. (2008). Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. New York: Penguin.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. J., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the Twenty-first Century. MacArthur Foundation.

Seiter, E. (2007). Practicing at home: Computers, pianos, and cultural capital. In T. McPherson (Ed.), Digital youth, innovation, and the unexpected, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning (pp. 27-52). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Smith, J. R. (2010, October 6). Would you want a digital footprint from birth? AVG Blogs. Retrieved December 2, 2010, from http://jrsmith.blog.avg.com/2010/10/would-you-want-a-digital-footprint-from-birth.html

Turkle, S. (1984). The second self: Computers and the human spirit. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Other Relevant Resources

Alanen, L. (2001). Childhood as a generational condition. In L. Alanen & B. Mayall (Eds.), Conceptualising child–adult relationships (pp. 129-143). London: Falmer.

Alexander, V. A. (1994). The image of children in magazine advertisements from 1905-1990. Communication Research, 21, 742-765.

Banet-Weiser, S. (2004). Surfin’ the net: Children, parental obsolescence, and citizenship. In M. Sturken, D. Thomas, & S. J. Ball-Rokeach (Eds.), Technological visions: The hopes and fears that shape new technologies (pp. 270-292). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Chalfen, R. (1987). Snapshot versions of life. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press.

Longhurst, R. (2009). YouTube: a new space for birth? Feminist Review, 93(1), 46-63. doi:10.1057/fr.2009.22

Wartella, E. A., & Jennings, N. (2000). Children and computers: New technology. old concerns. The Future of Children, 10(2), 31-43.

“There’s a nap for that!”: YouTube videos of young children using Apple devices (Part two)

Much of the discussion surrounding very young children’s media use is often of a protectionist nature against negative effects, or conversely proselytizes educational benefits of digital technology.  As noted in part one of this post, rich insight can be gained by framing the discussion rhetorically, specifically analyzing the domestic uses of technology in the form of parent-posted YouTube videos of babies and toddlers using the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.

***

Method

A purposive sample of 85 amateur YouTube videos was selected, accessed from October 15 to November 26, 2010, and originally uploaded between July 6, 2007 and October 31, 2010.  These clips were located via searching for either the terms “baby,” “babies,” “toddler,” or “toddlers” in combination with either the words “iPhone,” “iPad,” or “iPod Touch.” Of parents who explicitly noted their child’s age, the range was from 2-months to 3-years-old.

Three main elements of each YouTube video were considered as text for the rhetorical analysis: the audio-visual of the YouTube clip itself, the title that the user gave to the video, and (if provided) the description for the video that the user posted in the provided space on screen below the clip.  The videos mainly featured American parents and young children, but also included a number of families from Europe and Asia, providing some geographic, cultural, and ethnic diversity.  Most of these videos were filmed at home, with a few shot at the Apple store.  Few of the various textual sources provided information about what recording device was used to shoot the video.

Results

Three main categories of parents ’ construction of the image of their children emerged from the sample: (a) children “acting their age” (b) children as exceptional or “acting above their age” and (c) Apple technology as exceptional.  The videos in which children were “acting their age,” parents made no claims about the child being exceptional or advanced for their age.  For the videos in which children were presented as “acting above their age,” parents expressed in various ways that their child was more exceptional than other children, than other adults, or were exceptional at either explicitly or implicitly promoting Apple products.  The other common theme was of placing a strong emphasis on the technology itself as being transformative.  Note that some individual videos presented multiple themes, and are not restricted to one category or another.

Children “Acting Their Age”

Many videos presented children’s interactions with Apple technology as “cute.”  Humor was primarily derived from bodily functions, parental experiments with very young children’s behavioral temperament, and babies using the iPad as a “mirror.” The device served as both a reflective surface, but also as a reflective tool for viewing pictures and videos of both the babies themselves and other babies as well.

There were a number of video recordings shot from the iPhone while the device was in the child’s hands, the camera was on, and the camera was facing the child.  Nearly all of the videos shot in this manner featured a baby attempting to lick or put the iPhone in his or her mouth (one entitled “Baby eats iPhone”).  Another video showed a mother trying to dissuade her child from putting the mother’s iPod Touch directly into the boy’s training toilet (entitled “iPotty training”).  Humor was also derived from the bodily function of a child sneezing onto an iPad and rubbing the snot on it (entitled “KID SNEEZES ON IPAD HILARIOUS!!!”).  Another video was entitled “Cute 8 month old baby on the toilet potty training w/ iPad.”  The children in these videos were primarily interacting with the physical hardware and not manipulating the device’s software.

Another recurring theme was parents using the Apple device as a prompt for behavioral experimentation with their young children.  Some prompts were more explicit than others. For example, in one video, a parent positioned two babies to sit next to each other, one holding an iPhone and the other child looking on.  The baby holding the iPhone threw a fit when the other baby attempted to touch the device.  In other cases, parents themselves used the device to solicit a desired response from the child.  For example, some videos showed babies crawling to iPads that their parents had purposefully put just out of reach of the child, in order to prompt their child to crawl towards it.  In one entitled “Luke walking to the IPhone,” the iPhone’s forward facing camera recorded the child walking towards the device.  While some parents attempted to evoke forward movement such as crawling or walking, other parents used the device to pacify their child and stop them from crying.  There were videos of babies crying and caught on video being instantly quelled by having an Apple device put in front of them.  Conversely, videos like “Baby iPhone Addict” and “iPad Toddler Tantrum” demonstrated a very young child crying upon having an Apple device taken away from them.

One video (above) in the sample was different from the rest in that the video showed a parent supporting their child’s use of an iPhone application in a way that was developmentally prosocial in terms of communication style but antisocial in content.  That video was entitled “2 year old using iPhone. Shotgun by a 24 month old baby boy!”  It showed a father providing positive physical and verbal feedback to his child’s simulated gunplay with the “Shotgun” iPhone app.  In the video, the father asked the child “What’s that?” pointing to the icon for the “Shotgun” app.  The baby responded “Pow pow!” and retrieved the Shotgun app, to which the father asked, “How do you make it go ‘Pow pow’?”  The baby then shook the iPhone in a forward motion and the phone made a lock and load sound.  The boy then smiled and said “Pow pow!” to which father went “Alright!”  The content on the Apple devices allows for multiple types of learning as scaffolded by the parent, learning content that is not necessarily prosocial.

A number of babies also used the Apple devices for looking at still pictures of themselves or of their families, or videos of YouTube clips of other babies.  In terms of babies watching YouTube videos, in one video a child watched the aforementioned viral video “Charlie bit my finger – again!” Another video shows a baby watching a video of a laughing baby on her mother’s new iPad.  The child is transfixed and giggles in response to the giggling in the video.  In another clip entitled “Baby Sadie watches Babies Trailer on iPad,” the parent describes the video as “Here’s my 6 month old daughter watching the Babies Trailer on a new iPad. Talk about multi-layered marketing.”  Babies, a 2010 documentary looking at the lives of four babies from around the world, provides the opportunity for the child to mirror another very young child’s emotions and facial expressions.  Meanwhile, the parent’s uploading of the video serves in some ways as an advertising tool for both the movie and Apple within the YouTube space.

Children as Exceptional or “Acting Above Their Age”

Another type of video demonstrated parents fetishizing their children’s perceived extraordinary nature, whether their children were extraordinarily intelligent and/or mature.  Three main themes were identified for ways in which parents promoted their child’s exceptional nature, 1) in terms of their child being smarter than other children, 2) being smarter than the general population or those much older, and 3) of their children being exceptional advertising vehicles for Apple products, as a briefly alluded to in the earlier example of the baby watching the Babies trailer example.

1) Children as more exceptional than other children.

Various parents promoted the rapid pace of their child’s perceived mastery of the Apple devices.  Many indicated that their young child “instantly” learned how to use the gadget.  One parent wrote that their 20-month-old child “mastered the iphone months ago.”  Another described their child playing a piano iPad app (of which there were many babies playing piano apps videos) as a “Mozart baby,” invoking the Baby Einstein moniker and the much-debated link between classical music and the intellectual growth of very young children.  Another mother wrote of her child’s ability to distinguish between single- and multi-touch devices, “She even knows that her other fingers shouldn’t be touching the screen.”  Quite a few videos also demonstrated parents marveling not over their child’s navigation of the specific applications, but rather their child’s ability to “unlock” the iPhone.  Many of the children in these videos were praised for the ability to do so by their parents.  It is unclear from these videos if the child also understood the non-digital key/lock referent.

Some of the videos were more explicit about directly comparing one’s child to other children.  Through clip titles and descriptions, a large number of videos in the sample demonstrated parents labeling their child as the “world’s youngest” or “the real youngest” iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch user or as an “iPhone kid genius.”  Some parents also demonstrated self-awareness to this hyperbole, as one father noted of his child, “He’s a genius. (Well, at least his dad & mom think so.)”  Other parents evoked norms by describing their children as “more than average.”  Consider this video description:  “My sweet little boy is just an average boy doing just a little bit more than the average kid to be independent more and more each day.. Mind you he is just a one yr old boy.. (He first used the ipad when he was 16 mos old)  now i wonder if he is the youngest ipad user today.. =)”.  While the example initially validates normativity, in increments the parent represents the child as above the norm, from an “average boy” to the “youngest ipad user today.”  Some videos ironically juxtaposed normativity and exceptionality.  One video, described as “Three-month old prodigy Ilan Peter Oren performs selected works on the iPad piano” was introduced by an iMovie title screen with a red curtain that parts, flickering candelabras, and a gothic-style lettered title “Great Performances.”  This polished production value is purposefully contrasted with the child’s limited range of motion as well as his spitting up about 50 seconds into the one minute and 25 second video.

2) Children as more exceptional than adults.

Some parents positioned their children as exceptional by deemphasizing their own role in their children’s learning, as well as generally comparing their children to the older general population.  In a few cases, parents asserted their child’s exceptional nature in relation to not needing intervention from adults in order to master the Apple devices.  As one parent described their video, “My son has now learned how to turn on the iPhone, unlock it and flip through his favorite photos. He hasn’t had much coaching to learn this. He just watches me using it.”  The parent downplays their own active teaching role in favor of promoting their child’s observational learning.  Independence was a popular theme.  Another parent wrote, “He knows how to operate the ipad on his own.. From turning it on, going to the menu, choosing the applications that he likes and playing with them.. =) He is all on his own when he uses the ipad and alot of other things actually.. he is quite an independent kid!”  This is not to say that parents who described their children as exceptional did not also acknowledge their child’s limitations.  For example, as another parent described, “we just wanted to show everyone that even a 22 month year old baby girl who can barely even talk can play a sophisticated device like the apple ipod touch.  she learned this by just watching us play games on the ipod touch.  i had to record the video behind her so she does not know she was being recorded because if she knew she would have paid attention to the camera.”  In another video, an edited short movie entitled “iPhone Baby PWNAGE!!!” a baby shows a befuddled father how to turn on his iPhone.  There was an interesting dynamic in these videos between attributing the child’s exceptional nature to the parents or the children themselves.

A number of videos also contrasted the child’s dexterity with the devices to the general population.  Unlike non-experts, one child “knows how to use the phone like a pro.”  One tongue-in-cheek video was subtitled “If i phone, uCan too!” which the user described as “How to use the functions on your iPhone” by her 1-year-old daughter.  In another YouTube clip, a toddler unlocked an iPhone and wove it around as he danced and bopped around to James Brown’s “Living in America” in his carpeted home hallway in front of a laundry basket (entitled “iPhone: You’re never too young for one”).  The child was thus framed as enjoying the device in a way that “you” might.  Additionally, in the aforementioned Shotgun app video, the parent compares the child to other relatives, noting in the description, “My son loves my iPhone.  He is more efficient at it than his grandmother.”  These videos compare and contrast their child to the population-at-large.

3) Children as exceptional advertising vehicles.

Another recurring theme was children personifying and promoting the Apple commodity.  Some videos were explicitly promotional, such as the testimonial clip entitled “Baby and the iPad – Uzu App Review (by a 4 month old).”  In the video description, there was a link to the mother’s own blog of digital media reviews.  And at the end of the clip, there was also an on-screen caption (“2 slobbery thumbs up for the Uzu app”) placed over a still frame of the smiling child.  A description accompanying another video linked to the iTunes page for the app being demonstrated by the child, and claims that the app would “make your babies even cuter!!!”

While some videos promoted apps, which are generally produced by companies other than Apple, some of the videos presented children mimicking the Apple brand.  One video was actually a 30-second mash-up of one of the original existing Apple commercials for the first generation iPhone and home footage of a parent holding the iPhone above their baby like a crib mobile.  The re-recorded vocal track played over the commercial’s iconic acoustic guitar track.  The ad copy was modified to say, “With the iPhone, you can listen to your favorite songs.  You can even check your email.  Not only that, you can surf the Internet and watch your favorite movies.  Even better, the iPhone is now a pacifier for your baby.”  And in perhaps the most explicit Apple fan video, entitled “Baby Steve Job’s iPhone”, a 2-year-old dressed up as Steve Jobs for Halloween, in Jobs’ uniform of high-waisted jeans, a belt, and a black turtleneck. The child also held the plastic case and cardboard insert replica of the iPhone that generally comes with the phone’s packaging.

Apple Devices as Exceptional

Some videos more than others fetishized the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.  This praise manifested in two ways: one, in terms of displaying the newly purchased Apple device as a display of wealth, and second, in terms of the benefits of the technology for children with disabilities.

By posting a video of the child playing with the newly acquired device, a number of parents asserted their socioeconomic status.  The chronologically earliest videos in the sample were created shortly following the release of the first generation iPhone, and there was a large spike in sampled videos produced in early April 2010 following the release of the first generation iPad.  Some videos featured parents or children opening the box and removing the item from its original packaging.  One video (above) displayed a father performing this action, followed by positioning the iPad into his baby’s arms as if cradling the device.  This ritual seemed much like the modern American traditional photo of children taken in professional photography studios in homes or at Sears, in which the child holds an arbitrary stuffed animal or toy like a prop, as the child is too young to understand the item. Other parents distinguished that this was a gift unlike any other gift, as one described, “My child loves the iphone more than any of the 100 toys we bought him.” In these case, the handheld Apple devices are tender gifts for the child to grow into, and love much as the parent loves it.  As many parents keep such items as an iPhone or iPad physically close enough to constantly touch, demonstrating their child’s proficiency with these singularly significant devices reflect the parent’s physical and emotional bond between and betwixt their child and their devices.

Other videos focused on the transformative properties of the Apple devices for children with special needs.  Consider the following video description about one parent’s son:

His speech, understanding, word recognition, and even hand eye coordination have improved within just a short while!! I am so amazed and thankful for this amazing learning tool that my son has! I wanna say thanks to Apple and all those that have given my child such a head start in life with this amazing instrument! My son can read tons of words now, he knows every animal and dinosaur and he just turned 2 years old!!!! If you have a child around 2, don’t rob him/her of knowledge, go buy him/her an iPad!

Some of these videos were intended for the audience or community of other parents of other children with disabilities as a form of social support and testimony about the devices.  These videos primarily featured children with cerebral palsy and autism using the iPad, and on the whole these children tended to be a bit older in age than the foci of analysis.  These videos merit a richer analysis than.  For example, one mother posted a series of videos of her son’s use of the iPad, which she described as a “tool not a toy.”  She described during one such video how “This time I made it more challenging for C. Using the TapSpeak app like a Big Mac switch he used the iPad as a communication tool/AAC device instead of a toy and was much more satisified.”  This parent did not seem to express the sentiment that the technology was more exceptional than her child, but rather that the technology was so powerful because it gave her child the opportunity for self-expression.

***

Through a textual analysis of the audio-visuals, video titles, and video descriptions, these clips help us understand the role communication technologies play in the interactions between a select demographic of mostly US parents and very young children.  In my next post, I’ll discuss how these videos are parents’ public displays of their own and their child’s economic, social, political, and cultural capital and the relationships embedded in these displays.  In turn, the public presentation of the digital YouTube asset speaks to children’s current and future value, visibility, agency, and identity within their families and to a commoditized society.

“There’s a nap for that!”: YouTube videos of young children using Apple devices (Part one)

When people ask me what I study in grad school, I usually respond in one of two ways:

1) A rounded explanation of how I am interested in families with young children, and the ways that digital and analog technologies play a role in shaping psychological, social, and literacy development, or,

2) I say that I basically study “babies and iPads.”

The latest video of the “babies and iPads” genre, below, claims that for a 1-year-old, “a magazine is an iPad that does not work.”

Earlier this year, I spoke at the annual Digital Media and Learning Conference (2012 conference website) on this topic and a textual analysis I did on the increasing amounts of these types of YouTube videos.  While theoretically, conceptually, and methodologically, my study was underdeveloped (at least, so says two different academic journal rejections,) I figured that instead of making revisions and going through the lengthy resubmission process, that if I posted the revised version here and it got a conversation going in a more public forum, then my work wouldn’t go completely to waste.

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Two of the most globally viewed viral YouTube videos to date – “David After Dentist” and “Charlie bit my finger – again!” – feature very young children as filmed by their parents in domestic spaces: the backseat of the family car and a cozy armchair in the home, respectively.  One growing category of viral YouTube videos features very young children (approximately 6-months to 3-years-old) and sometimes their parents as well playing with the parents’ Apple touchscreen devices.  The most popular of these YouTube videos, “A 2.5 Year-Old Has A First Encounter with An iPad,” has well over one million views.  Of the video, which was posted three days after the release of the first generation iPad, Mashable wrote, “For a company who prides itself on making easy-to-use products, this kind of unsolicited marketing is pretty much pure gold [for Apple].  The litmus test for ‘user-friendly’ until recently was ‘can my mom use it?’ Increasingly it might become ‘can my toddler use it?’”

In regards to technology and family practices, the above quote alludes to a potential evolution of norms concerning utility and usability.  Within a family, is it more important for technology to be ‘so easy, even older adults can use it?’ or ‘so easy, even a baby can use it?’  The Mashable article presupposes that this moment in time might be a critical juncture in generational relationships surrounding technology, with the parents of young children (who are themselves children of older parents) caught in the middle.  Many of these parents of very young children are young enough to be considered “digital natives” themselves, to employ the oft-misused term.

The Mashable article suggests that Apple devices might increasingly benefit the young (the future consumer and learner) more than the old.  Currently though, relatively few children possess their own Apple devices, as the gadgets primarily belong to adults or are shared among the family.  Since a device such as an iPad is a costly investment, upper-middle class families may feel the need to justify the purchase, and so insure that even the youngest and oldest family members can benefit from the device.

With the production and circulation of these YouTube videos featuring very young children using iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch devices, children (with the aid of their parents) are producing Apple as we come to know it.  Videos like “A 2.5 Year-Old Has A First Encounter with An iPad” and “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work”  present a window into the generational ownership dynamic surrounding Apple gadgets, a form of what Foucault termed “technologies of the self.”

The videos demonstrate how both the technological device and the child are both a form of the parent’s progeny.  Both are deeply personal replications and extensions of the parent, though the child has more individual autonomy than the device.  The parent determines his or her device applications, settings, and preferences, and also separately for the child.  Thus these videos may serve as evidence of a sort of “double second self” for the parent and child, to borrow Sherry Turkle’s conceptualization of the relationship between children and technology.  The child is a reflective of the parent, and parents are also shaped by their experiences with their children.  As the child is interacting with technology (that is itself reflective of the parent), the technology is responsive to the child’s tactile and emotional feedback.  These devices are both the adult and the child’s toy.  For instead of children being told to share his or her toys, some parents in the aforementioned YouTube videos symbolically model sharing their toy with their child.

These YouTube videos are artifacts of the domestic use of one technology (video cameras) to capture and curate the domestic use of another (touchscreen handheld Apple devices).  Not all children and parents are taking part in this (re)production.  While YouTube may be a relatively accessible platform for those with the Internet bandwidth and recording technology, the ownership of the specific Apple devices featured in these videos is tied to demographics.  There is a large price differential between a newly released iteration of an iPad and a hand-me-down first generation iPod Touch.  Children have historically served as statements of class status, from the school one’s child attends to the social networks thus created.  Publicly posting one’s child playing with an expensive device makes that wealth visible to a technological community.

These YouTube videos are but one way for both parent and child to perform their technical affiliations and mediated experiences.  There is much to be written by cognitive and developmental psychologists about the usefulness of touchscreen technology in education, and about how much or how little time children should spend in front of and engaging with screens, or the content on those screens.  However, there is a scarcity of literature on how parents may be constructing the image of their child as technologically proficient, via the YouTube network.

These videos allow caregivers to construct versions of a parent-child dynamic in relation to technological innovation. They invent the child as expert, using technological literacy as form of social currency.  While there are a variety of toys on the market that are child-friendly toy versions of Blackberry phones and e-readers, such objects are distinctly for the child and not the adult primarily.  The parents posting these videos have chosen instead to focus on their children playing with the grown-up toy, showing how the adult makes space in their life and on their device for their child.  These videos offer an interesting commentary on the “pass-back” effect phenomenon, which implies that once a parent gives their device to a child, the parent has no contact with either the child or the device until the child “passes-forward” the device.  In order for the YouTube video to be taken though, there must be an adult present, some who are actively using the device with the child, and others who are unseen behind the camera.  The degree of active participation on the part of the parent who has passed-back the device also varies during the entire course of time in which the child is engaged with the device.

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Considering the critical discourse on modern parenting in relation to technology, last semester, I undertook an exploratory analysis of YouTube videos of babies and toddlers using the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.  Many parents posting these videos are “early adopters” in a dual sense – early in terms of buying the device close to its release date, and also adopting the device in the early stages of their child’s development.

How might these videos help us understand the role communication technologies play, as both physical and symbolic objects, in the interactions between parents and very young children?  In my next post, I will describe the themes that emerged from the approximately 80 YouTube videos I analyzed, and the implications for parent-child relations.