Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Sense of Accomplishment? There's No App for That—Yet.

How is children's television addressing accomplishment in an app-saturated world where help is often at your fingertips?

Admittedly, I'm woefully behind the curve when it comes to Sesame Street. Unfortunately, it doesn't make it into my regular viewing rotation as often as it used to. My 19-month-old niece, however, is a huge current fan, and we recently got to watch an episode together that had some very important lessons for the upcoming generation of multitaskers.

Telly was struggling to learn how to perform a new pogo trick—the Boingaroonie. And though he practiced, he just couldn't get it right. So he gets an iPogo. That's right. It's exactly what you think it is: an iPogo. And what does the iPogo do? Well, just about anything:

[Disclaimer: This is a muppet song—and it's catchy. I claim no responsibility if you start humming it on your own.]

This clip actually dates to November 2010, and when it was released, a lot of attention was given to the fact that Sesame Street was spoofing the popular Apple advertising campaign, which reinforced the power of the handheld device. (Seriously, what can't your iPhone do? Meet a boy named Matt? Don't worry! Apple is working on that.)

However, commentary seemed to overlook the outcome of all those apps: Telly ultimately returns the iPogo, despite being tempted by subsequent generations that can do even more things. He does so because even though the iPogo will pogo for him—at just the right speed if he asks it nicely—and perform the Boingaroonie, he gets no joy from the activity. He feels no sense of accomplishment when he performs the Boingaroonie because he's not actually doing the trick. He's dependent on the technology he possesses. For Telly, that sense of mastery was important. Have we compromised that with our instant mobile search? Want to know how many career strikeouts Billy Wagner had? Or want to learn how to tie a bowline? Well, if you have an iPhone—or an Internet-enabled device—you don't have to wait or seek out a specialized source of knowledge. Does having the answer trump any feelings of inadequacy? Or perhaps that is why we are joined at the hip to our devices: they offer a sense of independence from others and hide the deficits of our understanding.

The episode also raises the question as to why Telly wanted the iPogo in the first place: He gets sold on the idea—seduced by the power and capabilities it offers. And the scene offers a subtle commentary on the social pressures mobile technology imposes: as an easy way to impress Baby Bear, how does these devices reinforce certain standards for acceptance?

Telly endorses a sense of accomplishment to a generation that intuitively interacts with touch-screens and regularly Skypes with Grandma. For them, Dino Dan and Dora are available on-demand. In a world with Zippo apps, apps that help you find constellations, and mobile enabled GPS, it's a good reminder that sometimes it's okay to do things for yourself—and it's okay to go against the grain. Sometimes. 

But the mochachino app really did get my attention.


Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

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