I want to relate an interesting story my brother told me the other day about one fascinating -- and negative -- way Apple is affecting children in the classroom. My brother is a grade school teacher, and recently he's noticed an alarming trend in his students' grammar, specifically capitalization. It started a few years ago. My brother would review a sentence one of his students wrote, and it would read, "i went on a walk with my mom." He'd see this lowercase I and would mention to the student that he forgot to capitalize it. These lowercase I's would show up occasionally, but my brother always assumed it was just a case of forgetfulness on the student's part.
However, this year seems to be a tipping point for lowercase I's. More and more, my brother began to notice that students who had never had a problem with capitalization before began to write their I's in lowercase. Sentences like "i went to Disney World this year" and "My father and i ate ice-cream" started to become the norm.
One day last week, when his students had turned in their short story assignments, my brother graded them over recess and noticed that the dreaded lowercase "i" was incorrectly capitalized in more papers than ever. When his students came back from recess, he asked them why so many of them weren't capitalizing their I's, even when they began a sentence with the pronoun "I." The first reply: "Because iPod is spelled that way." The other children agreed that's why they do it as well, though some attributed it to the iPhone or iPad.
My brother then wrote "iPad," "iPod," and "iPhone" on the chalkboard and explained that Apple's use of the lowercase "i" was just for product branding and marketing purposes. He then had his students write another story. When they handed those in, some of his students had mentioned an iPad or iPod in their stories (Apple products featuring in their stories is something that occurs regularly), but this time the iPad or iPod was spelled "Ipad" or "Ipod."
That's when my brother realized it's hard for seven, eight and nine-year-olds to understand the concept of branding and marketing (but not advertising), and therefore it's hard for them to make the connection that "iPod" with a lowercase I is capitalized correctly, but "i am going on a walk" is not. He also realized it's now an uphill battle to teach young children the proper way to use capitalization when most of today's popular electronics begin with a lowercase I.
Now, before anyone freaks out, I am not saying Apple is responsible for disrupting the education of our children. I'm just pointing out that the lowercase I phenomenon in grade school is an interesting side effect of the wild popularity of Apple products in the six to nine-year-old age range.
Matter of fact, the way young children react to Apple products is somewhat shocking. I'll sometimes visit my brother's class to read to the children. They think it's cool that I write books and write for blogs. The last time I was in the class, I was in the back of the room at a desk. Two students at a time would come up and ask me questions about what it was like to write a book (and they all thought it was "beyond cool" that I wrote a book on the iPad). When I was done talking to all the children, my brother told them that if they came up and sat quietly on the carpet at the front of the class, I would join them and show them what my book looked like on the iPad in iBooks. I literally had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing as I walked to the front of the room while shouts of "Make way! Give him room! He's bringing the iPad!" came from the children. That's when it struck me just how much mindshare Apple has among eight-year-olds and how powerful that mindshare is. No wonder they've started lowercasing their I's.
Is Apple at fault for the lowercase I phenomenon? Of course not. Is it a major problem for America's education system? Again, no; let's raise teachers' pay so that we can keep the good ones before we worry about teaching children about branding. Still, the effect of a popular product's grammatical branding on the way children write is an interesting side effect -- and one which is not limited solely to Apple's influence. Think of all the Web 2.0 names, like Flickr, Digg and Topix, which are nothing more than misspelled real words. Again, I'm not suggesting those brand names should change, but that being said, if children start spelling "flower" like "flowr," I'm gonna personally launch a war to bring back the vowels.
(P.S.: The "I" in the headline is lowercased deliberately. Just so you know. -Ed)