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The Wisdom of 4 Year Olds

Clay Shirky, speaking to the Web 2.0 Expo last week, told this story to illustrate his point that the shift from passive consumption of media to participatory media is not a fad.

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago and one of them was talking about sitting with his 4 year old daughter watching a DVD.

And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. It seems like a cute moment. Maybe she’s going back there to see if Dora was really there.

But that wasn’t what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables and her dad said “What you doing?”.

And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said “Lookin’ for the mouse”.

Here’s what 4 year olds know. A screen that ships without a mouse, ships broken.

Media that targets you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for.

His whole talk is well worth 16 minutes of your time.

While I’ve only bounced through four chapters (it’s hard to read linearly anymore! :-), I also highly recommend Shirky’s book “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations”.


  1. The Science Goddess

    I’ve started reading this book, too. For me, it seems to be the right book at the right time—I’m moving through it slowly because it sparks so many ideas and connections that I need time to digest it all and reflect. Good stuff!

  2. sylvia martinez

    I think it’s funny this story is included as some grand example of how kids think differently than us old fogies. Hasn’t anyone every watched that show? It’s not a mystery why the kid would ask about a mouse when watching Dora the Explorer. The whole show is like a video game, they often ask the viewer the “click” on things and show a cursor like thing on the screen.

    The child was simply doing what the TV asked them to do. It’s not an indication of societal change.

  3. Tim

    Sylvia: I won’t try to speak for Shirky, but I interpreted the kid in his story as representative of the growing number of people who feel as if a screen with no input is not one they want to use. I’m hardly in the prime demographic but I still can’t watch TV any more without having my laptop within reach.

  4. sylvia martinez

    Tim, sure, I get that he WANTS it to be an example of that, but it’s not!

    I watch TV with a laptop too. I’m onboard for the whole message of the book. But it amuses me that this anecdote is being misinterpreted. If anything, the story says that 4 year olds believe what they see.

    I clapped for Tinkerbell when Peter Pan asked me to – that’s all this is.

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