Technology has promise and pitfalls


By Patrick May

By Patrick May

San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. (MCT) — Meet the digital diapered set.As mere babes devour more and more online media while being baby-sat with the help of the Internet, the crib is becoming America's new tech incubator. And as app developers and gadget makers compete to corner the youth market, their innovations are fueling a national debate over the promises and pitfalls of being connected so young.

The folks at Boston-based Rest Devices, for example, probably never dreamed they'd kick a hornet's nest by launching Mimo. Slipped into a onesie, Mimo's sensor and microphone tells the smartphone-packing parent in the other room the baby's temperature, movements and position in the crib, offering 24-7 surveillance with a Bluetooth-transmitted soundtrack of their child's burps and babble.

Whether you consider Mimo an agent of Big Brother, as one San Jose schoolteacher fears, or the ever-vigilant digital assistant that mothers across the land crave, the trend it represents is touching nerves.

It's also gaining strength. From baby-monitoring hardware, to games on an iPad attached to a Fisher-Price bouncy chair, to interactive learning tools for the under-6 set from startups like Palo Alto-based Kidaptive, technology is increasingly being woven into American childhood.

A recent study by Common Sense Media found that 38 percent of children under two have used a mobile device for media, compared with 10 percent two years ago. Even larger increases were reported in tablet ownership among their older brothers and sisters, up to age 8. With companies literally hooking up technology to humans right out of the chute, wearable sensors are the tip of an onslaught of apps and tablet-based learning platforms. And that leaves some adults alarmed.

"It's Orwellian to have too much tech shoved into our kids' lives at earlier and earlier ages," said East San Jose English teacher Robin Edwards-Harvey when she learned about Mimo, which is marketed as a "cure for Mommy brain." "With little kids getting addicted to things like game technology, I see this as part of a really disturbing trend."

But app-makers tout the educational horsepower of their wares, and many parents say they've seen technology have a positive impact on their children's lives.

"They claim they're not viewing or selling my child's information and I have to take their word for it," she says. "Sure, it's a scary world we live in with all the surveillance going on. But it wasn't the fact that someone could track my baby's biorhythms that was keeping me up at night ... it was my baby."

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