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Why does this digital abacus exist?

Why does this digital abacus exist?


Can I introduce you to a calculator?

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Image: iBrain (Kickstarter)

Sometimes, old fashioned things are better. I understand the arguments of those who prefer taking pen and paper notes to typing for example, or even people who prefer analog, vinyl recordings to digital ones.

But I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around the iBrain: Digital Abacus, currently looking for funding on Kickstarter. The fact that abacuses have fallen out of style since the adoption of the conventional Arabic number system that we use today doesn’t seem to have stopped iBrain from creating this, but that’s not a problem in and of itself. Abacuses are apparently still used to teach children math using physical representation, which is also fine.

My issue comes with the fact that this company has made a digital abacus, a phrase that feels inherently contradictory at a very basic level. Once you add Bluetooth and the ability to connect to a tablet, you have not improved the abacus, you have made a very weird calculator / game controller.

You have not improved the abacus, you have made a very weird calculator

Which gets me to the other part of the iBrain digital abacus — in addition to its ability to do math slowly, it’s also designed to work with iBrain’s companion app for “brain-training” games as a controller. The company claims that together, the digital abacus system and the brain training games will help children improve at mental math, memory, boost self confidence, and be more creative. And while the campaign notes that studies have shown brain-training games to be effective for these sorts of things, there are also conflicting studies that claim that there isn’t really any benefit in them at all.

The iBrain digital abacus is available with early bird pricing starting at $69 on Kickstarter, and will retail for $149 following the campaign (a price at which one could buy both a regular abacus and an advanced TI-89 graphing calculator, but I digress). The company hopes to ship devices sometime in June, although the usual warnings about Kickstarter campaigns apply.