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Larry Ellison: Technology has 'negatively impacted' children

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Tech magnate and extremely rich chap Larry Ellison bemoans the effect technology has on children.

Billionaire Larry Ellison was asked at the Oracle Human Capital Management summit on Thursday about what changes he thought technology might have on the world.

After plugging a movie his daughter produced – "Her" – as a good indication of how technology may change our lives in the future, the chief executive of database company Oracle ruminated on some of the unexpected problems the tech revolution has already had.

"I am so disturbed by kids who spend all day playing videogames," Ellison – who was born in 1944 – said.

"When I was a kid a long time ago, when the sun rose I was outside on my bike. If my parents were lucky – poor parents! – I would be home before it got dark," he recalled, before saying it seemed like a shame to him that kids these days spend their time playing computer games, rather than being outside.

"They prefer videogames to real games because they're easy," he said.

By example, Ellison noted that "in virtual reality everyone gets to be [basketball superstar] LeBron."

"Game-playing is more fun when it's virtual because you're more successful. ... in reality, only one person gets to be LeBron."

In Ellison's view, though technology is at root "neither good nor bad ... it can sometimes be disturbing to see how technology has, I think, very, very negatively impacted the lives of our children."

Ellison is not alone in his view that technology can be bad for children. MIT professor Sherry Turkle has made similar warnings in talks and books about how technology poses a great danger to the development of social skills in the young.

More broadly, writer Nicholas Carr has become a cautious critic of technology as well. In The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, he writes at length about how the availability of easy information retrieval via services like Google may be eroding our ability to think clearly.

Governments are also aware of this, as seen by the UK political establishment's well-meaning push for teaching young children to program, and the success of the homegrown Raspberry Pi microcomputer.

The problem with all of this is that it's the services that tech tycoons like Larry Ellison created – the Oracle database, for instance – that made it possible for companies to build higher-order, more abstracted systems, and to present them to a wider range of consumers. These systems, by necessity, were less easy to fiddle with than the lower-order systems they replaced – you don't need to be as technologically sophisticated to get to grips with a MacBook as you did for a BBC Micro, for instance – and so as more children use technology, proportionally fewer children are learning the fundamentals.

"I think the impact of technology on children right now and different aspects of our lives is sometimes fabulous and sometimes terrible," Ellison said. ®

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