How do you feel about devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home? Dubbed by technology giants as “home assistants” they were a bid to bring technology off screens and into the family room.
The plan was the voice-enabled device would stop us constantly typing stuff into our phones and provide opportunity for reading stories and playing games together.
But of course, that’s not the end of the story.
As Jordan Lee Willox writes in a recent post for Commonsense Media, watching his two-year-old son interact with Google Home was “hilarious and exciting” - until the questions started:
“Did we really want our son to grow up knowing his every question could be answered instantly just by asking it out loud? How would this affect his speech development? What about manners? These devices are powerful pieces of technology designed by some of the smartest people on the planet, but that doesn't mean that the legal and social consequences have caught up with them.”
All internet-based technology has the potential to be addictive
Jordan’s concerns are echoed by Dr. David Greenfield, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and founder of the Centre for Internet and Technology Addiction who claims we don’t know enough about the long term affects of the device but as a piece of internet-based technology it “does have addictive potential”.
So, how can we balance the good with the bad?
Let’s start with the pros
1. Home assistants aim to keep kids away from screens and also allows parents easier access to their children’s search history.
2. The device encourages listening and face to face interaction. According to Solace Shen, from Cornell University: “Playing a game with an adult or another child using a voice-enabled device, you're not focused on a screen, so the interaction encourages you to look at each other and pay attention to each other… If designed right, they can be unobtrusive, but speak up when needed."
3. Trivia, games, stories and Q&A sessions specifically developed for children have the potential to enhance their learning and development.
Acknowledge the cons
1. The device has the potential to “encourage bad manners” because you don’t need to say please or thank you to elicit a response.
2. Left unsupervised, children are vulnerable to misinformation or inappropriate content; in part due to the limits of Google’s current algorithm.
3. There is no real reporting on the long-term effects on this kind of technology which leaves serious questions around the consequences.
"Ultimately, the onus is on parents to manage the device in their own home," writes Jordan Lee Willox. "Be the boss of the device, limit the on-demand aspect by disabling the microphone and use it for specific tasks to support your child’s learning development, think stories, games and even calling family members."
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