Reality check: Viral iPad video has cute baby, faulty premise

I know I can safely declare a YouTube video “viral” after I get a link to it from my mother.

The latest example is the already-famous home movie of a cute baby thumbing through a magazine, seemingly perplexed that nothing happens when she tries to use the iPad “pinch” motion to zoom into a photograph.

By the time my Mom emailed me a link to the video this weekend, I had already heard about it from several other people, including my Poynter colleague Jeff Sonderman, who wrote about it last week. The video -- originally posted by a self-described “Internet activist” in Paris -- has been viewed on YouTube more than two million times and widely broadcast on television newscasts, including NBC’s “Today” show.

It’s easy to understand the video’s appeal. It demonstrates the pervasiveness of technology in the lives of even the youngest children. It underscores that future generations will interact with media in new ways.

And for enthusiasts of Apple products (and admirers of Steve Jobs), it neatly personifies one of the main selling points of the iPad and iPhone -- an interface so intuitive that even a baby can figure it out. By the end of the video, the girl gets bored with the magazine and picks up the iPad, on which she playfully slides icons around the touch screen.

Yet the premise of the video -- explained in the producer’s captions -- is dubious. “For my one-year-old daughter, a magazine is an iPad that does not work,” one caption reads. “It will remain so for her whole life.” The author’s notes on his YouTube page go further, declaring that the two-minute film shows how print media is becoming “irrelevant.”

In reality, few parents would be surprised that a one-year-old is captivated by a machine that responds to her touch, makes noise, and displays colorful images (including what appears to be a wallpaper photograph of her own face). The magazines -- a couple of women’s fashion publications -- obviously can’t compete for her attention, though it’s doubtful a toddler would find much to interest her in Marie Claire even if a computer didn’t lure her away.

Fortunately, assuming her parents expose her to more age-appropriate books and magazines, the child almost certainly will come to appreciate printed material as something more than a broken computer.

My daughter, who’s going on four years old, also knows how to use an iPad, but that doesn’t seem to dampen her enthusiasm for turning pages in books, looking through photo albums, and poring over the comics in the newspaper.

Yes, she had to learn that the “pinch” only works on a touchscreen, in the same trial-and-error way she figured out that ladybugs don’t come when you call them.

But no, she doesn’t think of a magazine as an “iPad that does not work” any more than she thinks of a painting as a TV that doesn’t work.

The video is correct in its implication that media organizations face challenges reaching consumers -- especially younger ones -- in today’s technological environment. The girl in the video may indeed prefer to read Marie Claire on her iPad rather than in print -- once she gets old enough to care about fashion trends and dating tips (and once she has a credit card to pay $19.99 to download the magazine’s app and buy a digital subscription.)

But let’s be cautious about declaring that any aspect of a one-year-old’s behavior “will remain so for her whole life.” Technology, audience preferences -- and children -- change more quickly than that.


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