New York Times article: “Teenagers’ Internet Socializing Not a Bad Thing”
Here’s a great example of a study addressing the wrong concern with misguided results designed to reinforce further funding of the same. This is a $50 million project on “digital and media learning” and conducted by whom? By researchers in the Department of Informatics (UC, Irvine).
Sorry, but the Department of Informatics is run by technology loving geeks (it’s a sister department to computer science). These are not the people you want to be studying the effects of technology. It’s like turning the keys over to the maximum security prisoners and asking them to make sure everyone behaves.
The original concern about teens on the Internet (according to the researchers):
Those concerns about predators and stranger danger have been overblown.
It may look as though kids are wasting a lot of time hanging out with new media.
Okay, I can accept the idea that stranger danger has been overblown. I’ve never thought that the world is full of creepos waiting to devour my children (there are a few out there, but those few get all the press, distorting our world view).
But the idea that “kids are wasting a lot of time” is still an unresolved concern for me. The study concluded that teens were not wasting time because:
their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.
Yeah, technological skills. Really hard to come by. I think your average 12-year-old could pick up some of these skills over a weekend. And learning how to get along with others? What we’re raising is a generation of people who don’t know how to interact face to face, who can’t read body language, and who would prefer to IM someone than walk down the hall and talk to them in physical proximity. These aren’t social skills, they’re anti-social skills.
People you never see aren’t real people: with a word you cut someone and you never see the results. You miss visual and auditory clues that you’re going the wrong way with your conversation.
Let’s talk about the “literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world.” Never mind that this is the new literacy (taken from the study):
hey … hm. wut to say? iono lol/well I left you a comment … u sud feel SPECIAL haha.
I’ve said before, that computer literacy does not consist of learning how to put up a MySpace page: the job of people who work at MySpace is to make putting up a webpage as easy as possible. I stopped listing “can operate a toaster” on my résumé when it finally became easy enough to do without reading a manual or spending years of study to do it.
Heck, the entire goal of the informatics industry (without regard to its effects on society) is to make technology easy for people to use. This is not literacy any more than watching TV is literacy.
Finally this statement:
There’s been some confusion about what kids are actually doing online. Mostly, they’re socializing with their friends, people they’ve met at school or camp or sports.
Sounds like a great use of time to me. Whether in the real world or in the digital world, “hanging out” certainly fills a social need, but to say that constant connectedness is a need? Here’s a quote from a 15-year-old boy participating in the study:
“As soon as I get home, I turn on my computer,” said a 15-year-old boy who started his MySpace page four years ago. “My MySpace is always on, and when I get a message on MySpace, it sends a text message to my phone. It’s not an obsession; it’s a necessity.”
A necessity? I think someone needs to teach this poor boy the difference between needs and wants. Of all the students who participated, only one tried to withdraw from the Internet to provide a control group. She only lasted a week without her Internets:
“It didn’t work,” she said. “You become addicted. You can’t live without it.”
So no control group for the study either. That’s great research. Constant social connectedness only reinforces the “cult of me” that’s prevalent enough already. Sorry, given the data, I don’t come to the same conclusion as the researchers on this one.
We don’t need even more biased studies telling us how great technology is. The progress of technology will likely continue without question and without any inhibition from society. What we need is more people after the pattern of Neil Postman, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, and others who are brave enough to at least raise a voice of caution: technology giveth and technology taketh away. It’s important to learn what we’re losing when we toss out the old for the new.