Why creativity needs tactile tech and less connected devices

10/28/2016 02:58 pm ET

"Why don't you add Bluetooth? Or have an app? Or put more sensors in it? You can get in the Apple Store!". So goes the argument to be a part of the Internet of Things, but at what cost? Being connected isn't always the right approach, for products or for consumers.

Those familiar with product development will be achingly aware that every dollar added to the cost of a product equals several dollars taken out of the consumer's pocket. The more features you include, the higher that cost. Bluetooth functionality alone can add $3-5 to a manufacturer's costs, which can mean an extra US$20 on the store shelf. Wifi capabilities are often more than double that. And that's before you add in app and software development costs.

But economic impact aside, what's the cost on our brains and cognitive development, especially at a young age? With the US Department of Health and Human Services estimating that American children spend seven hours a day in front of electronic media, this has become an increasingly hot topic. Research is emerging that indicates devices like iPads are hindering emotional development, stunting speech, as well as social interaction. A study by Boston university noted that "these devices also may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of maths and science." In an interview with the New York Times, Steve Jobs even admitted that didn't let his kids use an iPad at home for fear that they would become technology addicts.

Fortunately there is fierce competition from the world of touch and feel. The Rubix cube remains the best selling toy of all time, at a whopping 350 million cubes sold. LEGO had it's best year ever in 2015, producing over 40 billion bricks, and becoming the world's largest tire manufacturer. Hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, are attending Maker Faires worldwide, with that number growing at a staggering pace. At the end of the day, as intense as the onslaught of the "digital" and "connected" are, touching, building, and creating are at our core.

As a co-founder of 3Doodler, I've also been able to see first hand the power of a tactile experience over a connected one, particularly through our work in education. Back in 2014 we started to work with teachers for the blind and partially sighted, using our pens to draw instant tactile learning aids. And now with the kid-safe 3Doodler Start, which is completely cool to the touch, the scope for getting hands on has jumped another level.

In 2015 we ran a case study together with a UK-based school who found, conclusively, that tactile experiences gave visual learners a welcome leg-up in class. An equally staggering outcome was the way tactile driven technology levelled the gender gap in STEM education, with girls adopting tactile technology tools faster than boys, leading to increased enrolment in engineering subjects.

When we first started out, that notion of making tech accessible, and helping users get over the learning curve was crucial to us. The idea of the 3Doodler was such a new and unexpected concept that it needed to be as simple and easy to use as possible - a tactile experience, just like (unsurprisingly) using a pen or a pencil. We've stayed true to that philosophy for over four years, and even with the release of the 3Doodler PRO - our most advanced product - it's all about getting tactile, eradicating any barriers that might exist between a user and their ability to create, and stimulating innovation. If anything we've been on a mission to make our products even simpler, not more complex; and not more connected or virtual.