More Proof That Kids are Shaping the Future of Tech

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Some years ago, as a young reporter in Detroit, I was covering the battered auto industry and landed a fascinating story about how computers would play a big role in the industry’s near future – both in designing and making cars.

As you probably know by now, I have an insatiable curiosity for all things tech.

That’s why, almost as soon as I handed the auto computing story off to my editor, I was back on the road…

I had to know more about computers.

I drove directly to the nearest computer retailer to talk with people there – customers and salespeople alike – about their use of these early-stage personal computers, then used mostly as hobbies.

I was stunned to meet three teenage boys who said they went to the store every day after school to hang out. And no, they weren’t playing games. They were “writing code” – creating new applications for a device that many adults still hadn’t bought into.

A few days later, I filed a story predicting computers would revolutionize the world as we know it. I guess I wasn’t far off…

The year was 1981 – three years before Apple Inc.‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Mac debuted and five years before Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) went public.

To this day, I still watch the trends young people embrace to try to keep abreast of the next technology; I think teens can play a profound role in writing the road map of the future.

That’s why last week I told you about a group of tech-savvy young people with a lot of talent – kids who’ve won recent science and engineering contests sponsored by Intel. (See “These Teen Geniuses are Agents of Radical Change.”)

So, I have to say I was pretty excited to pick up a copy of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal

The nation’s leading business daily carried its own version of that same story on Monday; it ran a section-front story on a group of kids from around the country (and the world).

These kids aren’t sitting around whining about how they can’t find a job at the local hardware store or burger joint. They are taking matters into their own hands and writing all sorts of new apps – or application software – for others to use on Apple’s iPhone.

One boy from Connecticut has earned $8,000 to date from sales of his apps. Oh yeah, he’s 13 and self-taught. He owns his own company now; he calls it Bread and Butter Software LLC.

Here’s the thing. Apple has seen intense teen interest (and aptitude) in writing apps for the sector’s leading smart phone. That’s why, this year, the company lowered the minimum age from 18 to attend its developer meetings and now allows kids as young as 13 to take part.

These are marquee events that draw thousands to learn more about the hot new products Apple has on the drawing boards and ways to profit by pushing the firm’s high-tech to the next level. The latest show was held just last week, and several young teens came to San Francisco for it.

Apple must agree with me about tech-centric kids, because, according to the Journal, the firm supplied 150 teens with “scholarships” to cover the $1,599 entrance fee.

I see Apple’s teen program as vital for two reasons.

1) First, it shows exactly how bright young entrepreneurs respond to challenges: They work around them.

Just last week, I heard a radio news report saying the U.S. teen jobless rate is the highest since World War II. Fact is, that stat has held true for the last three years.

To a lot of people, it might sound like kids today face a bleak future, at best.

After all, many of them are putting off college until the economy shows more strength. And lots of recent college grads find themselves moving back in with mom and dad, unable to support themselves and strike out on their own.

To some, the report might have cast doubt on one of the key reasons I’m so optimistic about the future – that young people will solve many of the big problems facing us today.

But not to me…

You see, from decades of following trends, I know that recessions often give rise to a whole new round of entrepreneurs. I believe those seven bright young folks I profiled – and others like them – see promise where others see pitfalls.

You can see that in the app story; these kids are ignoring the jobless rate and creating their own futures.

As I see it, they will become key drivers in the Era of Radical Change. The next few years will be like nothing we’ve seen before, in no small measure because America is a nation of youthful energy.

Who knows… Apple’s conference may have already attracted the next Mark Zuckerberg – the co-founder of Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB). No doubt, that company’s recent IPO proved controversial, but Facebook still boasts some 900 million users around the world. It also has a $68 billion market cap.

2) Second, in my note to you Friday I said young geniuses have an advantage today. They possess high-tech tools that earlier generations could only dream about.

These days, all they need is a smart phone, a creative idea and few lines of software code to change the world.

What’s more, as the Journal story makes clear, they are actually creating those tools themselves. And the iPhone is the perfect platform. It has given rise to whole new industries like mobile healthcare.

So, if you want a snapshot of the future, you just might find it in the palm of your teenager’s hand.


P.S. I’ll have more to say about this key trend later this week at I hope you’ll tune in.

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