This piece is Part 2 of a two-part interview with Joseph McPhail. Read Part 1 here.
(Part 2 – continued)
It’s no secret that children spend a great deal of time online and on their digital devices, but how much of that time is spent consuming versus creating? As we live in an increasingly digital world that brings with it fears of screen addiction and the big bad internet, Joseph McPhail of WEquil decided to adapt his daughters’ learning to the evolution of the internet, software, and machine learning. Joseph is a father of two young daughters, a data scientist, an entrepreneur, and adopter of new technology. His approach helps guide his daughters to bring out their natural talents in ways that can succeed in the future job market. Getting started at a young age, the girls have created Girls Health App, Code Academy, and written books and blogs. We hope that Joseph's perspective on raising creators, rather than just consumers, can help shed light on the productive and positive uses of technology in an ever-expanding digital society.
What is the hardest part about parenting in a digital tech age?
One reason parenting is so hard is that the future is uncertain. If parents in the 1980s had known their kids would hit the job market in the dawn of the personal computer, many would have taught their kids to program. If parents in the 1990s had known their kids would have computers in their pockets, many would have taught them to build apps.
Today, there are many technologies that could revolutionize our economy. I’m sure a lot of parents in the 80s and 90s were afraid of computers and smartphones when they first appeared. Some of those fears, especially with regards to smartphones, may have been justified. Sometimes I’m a little frightened, but I’m trying to prepare my daughters for a world in which social networking platforms, mobile applications, and machine learning tools are ubiquitous and essential.
How did you get your children to shift from being consumers to creators of technology and the digital landscape?
Kids are natural creators. As part of our research for the GirlsHealthApp, Sumay created a bunch of WEquil accounts on social media platforms to test them out. Within an hour, she and Aila were cracking up over some TikTok videos they made. It was tougher for me, but it’s natural for them.
Both of my daughters have blogs and Linkedin profiles to help market their ventures and writings. Lots of kids write, but it seems that very few have a habit of sharing with the world. I wouldn’t recommend having kids share their writing on Facebook without strict controls on who sees it, but LinkedIn is terrific. Kids benefit from feedback just like adults.
Couldn’t they get the same feedback at school?
The classroom setting doesn’t provide the immediate and representative feedback that ultimately determines value in the marketplace of ideas. Classrooms rely on the opinion of one person, the teacher. Teachers have an extremely important job, and we’ve been very lucky at Haycock where our daughters go to school. Kids need great teachers like those at Haycock to help inspire and grow students, but we no longer need teachers to be the sole arbitrators in measuring the value of what kids write and create.
Think of it this way...What’s the difference between writing a term paper for school and publishing your own book on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)?
Both provide an opportunity for Sumay to learn to write, but publishing for the world has numerous added benefits, including economic opportunities, social networking, and technological fluency.
The best way to learn economics is to start a business. Sumay makes 70 percent of $2.99 for every sale of After the Fire. This gives her a way to measure success, get rewarded for her work, and determine if what she is doing is worth the effort. Money works wonders motivating adults, and the same is true for kids. Child labor laws were put in place to protect kids from working in factories during the industrial revolution. That’s no longer relevant. Kids work hard in school anyway. In my view, helping kids find opportunities to make a little money while they learn is a no brainer.
Do you find merit in kids being on social networking platforms?
The best way to build a social network is to create things people want. Sumay is building relationships with her readers. That’s a tremendously effective way to build her brand, gather feedback, and make new friends. She is building on her earlier success with her blog. Every weekday she read a few pages and added it to a blog post “Sapiens for Kids.” It’s the most viewed post on our blog and simultaneously hilarious as well as informative.
The best way to become fluent with technology is to use it. Sumay researched the available publishing platforms, found the best one for her needs, figured out how to do it, and is now marketing her book for free using social media. So in addition to writing her first book, getting paid, and building a professional network of fans, she is also savvy with a full suite of technologies used to empower digital authors.
The best part is that she loves doing it...and everyone learns faster when pursuing their passions. You can tell from her writing. No one is telling her how many pages to read or how many pages to write. We gave her the tools, but she approaches her passions in her own way, on her own time, and the result is something she can call her own. In my view, that’s the best recipe for success because nobody can be a better you than you.
The jobs of the future will be creative jobs, but our education system is still built to the mold of the industrial revolution, which demanded workers to act like machines. That’s changing. It’s never been easier to start your own company, podcast, or blog. 3D printing will do the same for entrepreneurs that wish to build physical objects.
Let’s end this with a question about you. What’s the single nicest thing anyone has ever done for you...besides your family?
I would have to say my major professor, Dr. Peter Orazem. I was in graduate school with no clue what to research. He took me under his wing and taught how to turn data into value. I’ve been doing that ever since. Last year he invited me back to Iowa State to accept their Young Alumni Award. Dr Orazem has been an incredible mentor. I couldn’t do what I’m doing today if it weren’t for him.
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