From Baby Walkers to High Tech: The Anti-developmental Stance
Another study has found "strong associations between the amount of baby walker use and the extent of developmental delay". Children who spend time in walkers tend to be slower in "achieving normal locomotor milestones". Also, "baby walkers are known to increase the risk of injuries" (*British Medical Journal*, June 22, 2002). The walkers at issue here are typically round chairs with wheels; they allow babies to move around in an upright position, with their feet touching the ground, so that they can propel themselves with their own legs.
I have commented on this before, but it needs repeating. Could there be a more concise picture of our society's pathological distortion of the idea of development? We seem to say, "the child must sooner or later learn to walk; if we put him in a walker so he can practice using his legs, maybe he'll learn faster, and surely this would be good".
But, no, surely this would be bad. If a child normally learns to walk at a particular stage of his development, and if (as is certainly the case) this walking relates to everything else in the child, from the use of other limbs to the structuring of nerve connections in the brain, then why should we expect good to come of throwing a wrench into the complex developmental sequence? It is sheer craziness to force a use of the legs before the muscles and nervous system have prepared themselves for it. Far better to find ways to encourage the fullest expression of the urge to crawl so long as that urge prevails. The child has no difficulty letting us know when he is ready for fundamentally new developments such as walking.
In every domain of society where the "earlier is better" nonsense rules, the baby walker case should be contemplated and its grave implications registered. Earlier is *never* better -- not, at least, in any automatic sense. It doesn't even hold for the adult, who still must build every physical and cognitive development upon the solid foundation of past achievement and in harmony with a life-long rhythm of shifting potentials. It is amazing, in a society that makes such a song and dance of "evolution" and "development", that the anti-developmental, "earlier is better" notion could have taken such root.
Nowhere has it taken firmer root than in the high-tech industry – this despite the fact that many in this industry tend to think of themselves as in the vanguard of human and social development. But the powers of development are not mere powers of technical change. Change by itself is not development, because it leaves out of the picture who or what is doing the changing -- just as injudicious baby walker use leaves out of consideration the particular capacities, needs, and limitations of the child.
Limitation is what makes development possible, whether on the individual or social level. Imagine a situation without limitation -- which would mean, without any definition or fixed character at all -- and you will not be able to imagine significant development. There has to be a "nature of the thing" before you can talk about meaningful change – and understanding the particular nature of the thing is a crucial prerequisite for making the change meaningful. This is why the high-tech spirit that glories in new and cool stuff for its own sake -- "Let's see what we can pull off technically, without regard for how it fits into the limitations and character of society" -- is not only irresponsible but also profoundly anti-developmental.
As for the small child: What each phase of his development really needs is not to be hurried up and brought out of sequence, but to be deepened in the time and place where it belongs. One then does it work with the developmental process rather than against it.
It happens that our granddaughter delayed her crawling until an age where many babies are taking their first steps, and she chose not to walk until she was approaching two years old. Now she is two and a half, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a child show such utter exhilaration as she runs endlessly "there and back again".
It is only misguided adults who find cause for prideful joy in "early development". The child knows nothing of such joy; he is delighted to discover whatever properly belongs to each moment.
© 2002 Stephen L. Talbott
Steve Talbott, a frequent contributor to SCR, is the editor of NetFuture and author of The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst. You can read more of Steve's writings at: www.oreilly.com/~stevet/index.html and at: www.netfuture.org