Children map their own online worlds but parents must help with navigation
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”
The famous opening words of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities could be used to describe the networked world young people now inhabit.
While Dickens’s book is about the French Revolution, the digital revolution is far more radical.
I know many parents worry about their children’s constant use of digital media, and there are good reasons for that. This is a world that is always “on”. Once upon a time, if you were a bit of a nerd and not wildly popular, you could go home and curl up with your book. Now, you curl up with your laptop, your mobile, the television and your iPod, and miserably watch the rest of the world having a wonderful time.
Adults often ask why young people just don’t disengage from the networked world. That’s a question that signals a digital immigrant, someone who probably grew up with a landline that took years even to install. (Friends of mine held a party when they got their new telephone a mere 10 years after they applied for it.) Kids, on the other hand, are digital natives.
Don Tapscott is a writer and consultant who loves most things about the digital age. His website asserts that, among many other things, “he collaborates with prime ministers, presidents and ministers about the transformation of their countries for the age of networked intelligence”.
I am not entirely clear what that means, but he does have a nice analogy in a “Ted” (Technology, Entertainment and Design) online talk about how youngsters regard technology. “These young people have no fear of technology . . . sort of like I have no fear of a refrigerator.”
To expand on Tapscott’s metaphor, for kids today, technology is like the fridge – present in every home and invisible except when it goes on the blink. Asking someone to survive without a fridge is fine for a week’s camping, but not for day-to-day living.
Adults also focus on the negative aspects of the digital age, the fragmentation of attention spans, the constant insecurity, the narcissism of the age of the “selfies”. (Selfies are the photos you take with your arm outstretched, often on a mobile. There’s a variation involving mirrors, too.)
There are sites where you can view versions of famous photos doctored to look like selfies, for example, William on the balcony kissing Kate after the wedding, while holding his arm out to take a selfie. Funny, and oddly disturbing.