You know, I'm a middle school teacher, and I don't see kids as particularly anymore spoiled than we were (I'm 59+).
In my day, the cool toy was a Lionel train set, a Gilbert microscope, a reel to reel tape recorder, a refractor scope. I had them all, and I'm sure folks in the early 60s might have looked at me and said, "wow, that kid's spoiled!" :-)
Now a days that hasn't changed--the cool things have changed. iPhones, iPads--they're the cool toys.
I saw it happen in the model train world--only old guys playing wit trains, Lionel going bankrupt. But then somebody started putting sound in trains, and Thomas the Tank Engine, and The Polar Express, and Harry Potter, and now many kids have a train set again.
I think astronomy as a hobby needs to help kids get excited about scopes by embracing their technology. When I was a kid a 60mm refractor was enough to get me excited, but that was a 1962 world.
Let me tell you what I'd like to see: I still consider myself a newbie, and I need all the help I can get. My bride has an iPad. So I bought the astronomy ap that let's me take the iPad, point at the sky--no--overlay it on the sky--and wham: it tells me what's what. It's fantastic. It's how I found Saturn, and knew the path it would take in the sky. It's teaching me the stars--it's amazing.
So I got to thinkining: wouldn't it be great to have a scope with THAT capability? I look into the eyepiece and I'm told what I'm looking at. It reads, like an iPhone, my position. It lets me take a photo of what I'm seeing, with a click I can post it on Facebook.
That's what will get kids back into this hobby. And I'd buy one, too!
You nailed it precisely!!!
This same thought crossed my mind as I discovered the capabilities and versatility the iPod, iPhone, and iPad brings to the table when coupled with the right hardware and software. For me this came with Sky Safari Pro, SkyFi, MoonHD, and Gas Giants. I have interfaced the iPad to my Push-To and my Go-To mounts.
At TSP2012 my 10 year old daughter and several other youngsters took control of performing their own observing programs over a period of several nights. Melding iOS technology they fully understood with a Losmandy Titan and C11 allowed them to easily find, visually observe, and fully interrogate a wealth of information about each object they were seeing. Operating like a well rehearsed team they earned several observing pins with very little supervision from me during the course of that week.
At outreach events where I usually take my grab & go setup, a DM-6 equipped with DSC's and a Skywatcher 120ED Refractor I use the same app and interface, but this time SkySafari is setup in advance with a number of hi-lighted objects in a pre-planned observing session. In this setting I allow the visitors to move the scope on their own using the iPad as the "zero-power-finder". Again they can access a wealth of detail about the objects they are visually observing. With Gas Giants they can easily simulate the motion of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn and identify the name for each moon seen. Using MoonHD configured to show the Lunar surface presented on a given night I often challenge the observer to find a particular set of craters or lunar features. The experience is much more immersive using the iPad to integrate the mechanics of the telescope with a rich technical reference to explore in-depth the nature of the object seen...all "on their own".
Just last week I spent about 4 hours performing outreach in a very light polluted part of town. For the last hour, as the crowd thinned out, several younger visitors came back to my setup and took over the scope/iPad. They each took turns finding objects and exploring the night sky...all on their own.
But this wasn't the first time the iPad's versatility made such an amazing connection...this tool crosses generational boundaries with the greatest of ease.
My first epiphany came with my first iPad. After playing with it I thought of how I might get my 80-something year old Mother who had virtually un-plugged herself from the world-wide-web when my Father passed away. Dad was the techie...Mom had Dad to do all her "driving". She really never got hooked by the experience.
My siblings and I had offered many times to give her a laptop and re-connect her so we would be able to send pics, email, IM, etc. - to communicate!!! But she would have none of it. One day soon after buying it I took the iPad with me to her house. I spent a couple hours demonstrating how to access news, google anything, play solitaire, and read/write email, etc. Then I left it with her to explore on her own.
I never got that iPad back...that was two years ago...
And we couldn't have been happier about that!!!