I used to work in the computer industry and have also spent many years writing about IT. Does that make me any good with computers? Well, up to a point. And it does give a good view of how much young children are able to assimilate new technology.
The cliché is that kids can make gadgets and computers work while we grown-ups fumble around with obscure menus and baffling key sequences. That is true, but it goes deeper than this. My younger two have been practically weaned on computers, and they use them as a natural adjunct to their life – which is all virtually 100% entertainment anyway at their age.
Now what I've done is set up a computer for them and loaded various programs, and bookmarked certain websites – games being the main choice – and then watch them go. And boy do they know what to do.
I'm now relegated to the role of house IT manager, not only for the small ones but also for the teenager on his laptop and my wife on hers.
I've taken to sending them all system messages such as: "The network will be down in 15 minutes for vital maintenance while dad has his tea." Or: "The printer is now out of paper. We do not need 45 pictures of Bumblebee." (That's a Transformers character, by the way.)
And my favourite: "Dad has been abducted by aliens. We will return him for a week's pocket money, a bag of lemon sherbets and a day of peace and quiet." Well, it almost worked.
And guess what – as I've the best computer with the nicest screen, as soon as I'm not looking there's a small boy at my keyboard, not only booting up Peggle or Airburst Extreme, but also seriously threatening the existence of vital work, such as