My daughters Romy (7) and Lola (4) love watching Paw Patrol. This is a TV series for children about a pack of little dogs, each of which has special abilities. One is a policeman, or better policedog, the other a fire-dog, yet another can fly with her helicopter and so on. They are led by a boy named Ryder and always rush out to solve the problems of the small town they live in.
Romy asked me if she could watch her favourite episode of Paw Patrol and so the two of us sat down and watched the episode called “Robo Dog”. In this episode, Ryder has a new toy, a robotic dog he starts playing with. Yet everything the dog does surpasses the abilities of the other dogs, which makes them a little sad. Then the antenna of robo dog breaks, Ryder can not control it anymore and the mechanic dog runs berserk on town. All the other dogs rush out, catch him, Ryder repairs the toy and all dogs, mechanic or not, start playing happily with each other. End of story.
I asked Romy, why this was her favourite episode and she said it was funny and there was a lot of chaos.
So I asked her what she thought about this robo dog. She said:
“The other dogs where raised and educated and so they know how to behave. But the robo dog is damaged. And so he makes stupid things. He is not real, he was built. And if you are not trained to build such a dog, then it can go wrong. If you do not have a plan but just start building into the blue, most of the time this goes wrong. You just hurry and hurry and it goes wrong.”
You can imagine how very very proud I was of my girl. She had not only clearly thought about various aspects of this episode of her favourite TV show. She had also already developed general concepts about life and education and getting things done. And she had thought about the exact things I am dealing with professionally.
So what is it she believes?
– There is a difference between being created and being natural.
– Education is (amongst other things) learning how to behave.
– If you were educated, you can correct your behaviour yourself, but if you were built and get damaged, someone else has to help you.
– If you want to do something, like build a robo dog, you have to be educated to do so and you have to go about it with a plan.
– If you do something important, take your time.
Now I may not agree with every detail of her thinking, but this is okay. She has her own mind, her own life, she is in charge. But the fact that she likes cyborg issues and thinks about them critically is something we have in common and if I could love her more than I already do, I would.
Interestingly only one day later I saw a documentary on TV about cyborgs, about how we already today implement technical features into our bodies, what the future might hold and how we as a society should handle this.
So the debate and the development is on and I am right in the middle of it, professionally and privately (if there is actually a difference), holding my girls by the hand and, together with them, I will try to face this future.
P.S. Implicit to all of this is the common way cyborgs are portrayed in culture both for children and adults (cyborgs can be fun but dangerous when out of control), my approach to media use for children (do it together with them, which is fun and educational), and both my daughters and my own believe, that there is actually a difference bewteen humans and machines.