Why kids understand technology better than grownups

Give a kid a mobile device and a wireless connection and throw a problem at them. Chances are they'll find a solution faster than most grownups.

Why?

Because of stagnation.

We are creatures of habit. Therefore, the longer we live, the more stagnant our behavior becomes. We fall back on familiar ways, attempting to solve problems using old strategies that worked for us in the past. Adults use Google to find answers. Kids crowd-source them.

Young people are still in the formative stage; their knowledge of how technology works is being built piece by piece from the deluge of information flowing past them. This river of information is controlled by algorithms that are constantly filtering based on relevance, popularity, and most importantly, freshness. The solutions that kids are committing to habit are based on the latest technologies.

The lack of preconceived solutions in a child-like mind allows cutting-edge solutions to take root. A young brain is like a paper towel in a pool of kool-aid, just soaking up the sugary goodness. But eventually the sugary goodness begins to coagulate and the fluidity of an open mind gives way to habit.

Young people are slowly becoming old people.

The brain is an association machine; it is a bundle of experiences and connections. We solve problems by referencing our memory. In most cases, defaulting to learned behaviors is beneficial and allows us to survive. We know that it is safer to cross the street at an intersection because we've been berated and nearly run over in the past. We know that eating donuts and espresso for breakfast will make us feel miserable by lunchtime. We look for answers using search engines because it worked for us the last time.

With technology the rules are constantly changing. We are walking down a street that is never the same twice.

So how do we avoid the trap of stagnation?

Simple. We start by accepting our ignorance.

I'm serious.

Think about it. Would you need to tell your users to RTFM if they would just quit assuming they knew what they were doing?

Would your ability to solve technical problems improve if you stepped back and re-assessed the tools and resources at your disposal?

Ok, so I'm only half serious. We don't need to remain ignorant; we only need to assume that we are ignorant so that our minds remain open to new strategies and solutions.

In order to make the best use of technology, we have to understand that it is not like a trusty hammer. We can't just grab it, swing it, and expect to get the job done as we have in the past. The standards and tools are constantly changing, and we have to change with them.

As technical writers, our job is to convince our customers that they have an incomplete understanding of our products, and then fill the void. And when product features change, we have to wipe out that previous learning and refill the void with new habits.

We're in the business of behavioral change. We aim to cultivate a state of mindlessness and adaptability. When we cultivate such a state in our customers, we open the door for new learning.

The next time you try to learn a new way to perform a task, or teach another person how to perform a task, keep this video from Jinsoo Terry in mind. There is more than one way to peel an apple...

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open.” ― Frank Zappa

You can find more great quotes on open mindedness here.