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Friday, March 24, 2006

Web 2.0 and parents

Back at the turn of the year, "media convergence" was the buzzphrase. That has morphed into "Web 2.0," which actually says it much better. This new version of the Web we and our kids are experiencing actually involves a lot more than the mere converging of media – text, images, TV, film, and music - on the Web. It also involves more than the Web's arrival on all sorts of devices at home, anywhere (the Web we take along with us). Web 2.0 is all that plus multi-directional communication, publishing, and advertising. On this Web, kids are publishers, communicators, advertisers, connectors, filmmakers, pundits, etc., too. But this is so new that most of us haven't totally absorbed it yet. Even people in the tech industry and children's advocacy are scratching their heads and holding conferences to understand the implications, much less come up with child-protection solutions. The only part of this that has become a society-wide story is teen social-networking, because of a few widely reported, alarming cases of child exploitation (and because few households with teens don't have social-networkers in residence). Web 2.0 is still mostly a business story. Please click to my editorial this week to see why it affects everybody.

Technology & humanity

One very candid columnist in the Richmond Times-Dispatch says our technology is outpacing our humanity, citing a school hallway fight between two girls captured with a cellphone camera and posted on the Web by a third girl. "Everyone, it seems, wants to be a star," Michael Paul Williams writes. "Unfortunately, these young folks too often are channeling Al 'Scarface' Pacino … as their motivation. Toss in an explosion of technologies their elders don't always comprehend, and the implications are frightening." He may sound like a Luddite, but he's pointing out something that turns up in a lot of places, online *and* offline, where there is unmediated, private interaction in a homogenous group of people who are angry or otherwise not thinking of the implications of what they say and do. Humanity goes missing. Williams has a point when he says, "In the movies, robots invariably rebel against humanity. But with our demonstrable capacity for cruel and inhumane treatment of each other, who needs Terminators? We must create a culture of responsible use of portable technology, before it becomes a menace to society" (or at least to the well-being and reputations of people who aren't using it responsibly). We parents can be there for them, not to spy or overreact, but to keep the communication lines open and, when there's receptivity, help them stay alert, think before they post in public spaces, and show the same humanity online that they would in "real life." We need to parent the same in cyberspace as we always have offline.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Parenting smaller Net surfers

Post-millennial kids have never known life without a computer or, in most cases, the Internet. That would include 3-year-old Josh, son of Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Fry, who is refreshingly candid about this factor in Josh's life: "Joshua was born into a world of ubiquitous computers with Internet access. He'll need a guide into that world, sooner rather than later. That guide will be me. And I have absolutely no idea what to do, and pretty conflicted feelings about what awaits my son." Jason's last paragraph says a lot. It reflects both the lack of confidence so many of us feel about raising tech-literate kids and an important observation – that tech and the Net are no different from any other part of parenting. We're figuring it out together as we go along, and the more parent-child communication along the way the better. To read of other other parents' dilemmas and reactions to Jason's column, go to this page and scroll down about four screens.

France & 'digital freedom of choice'

iPod users everywhere might be interested in this story. France's National Assembly has voted yes on a law for "digital freedom of choice," the New York Times reports. The proposed law requires online music stores like iTunes to make songs available to any MP3 player, not just the iPod. "The bill also introduces relatively lenient penalties for digital piracy by individuals, with proposed fines of $45 to $180," according to the Times. The BBC reported that Apple called the legislation "state-sponsored music piracy." The law, which has been "fast-tracked" by the legislature next goes to France's Senate for a vote expected in May. If it passes, the BBC says, Apple would have the choice of complying or shutting down its iTunes store in France, which the BBC says represents just 5% of Apple's global business. The Times adds that, "while the iPod would be the device most prominently affected by the legislation, others, like Sony's Walkman digital music players, operate on a similar principle." France seems to be becoming a national-level consumer advocate in a global marketplace - the country already requires that iPod earbuds sold there have a maximum volume to protect French ears.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Blogs, wikis, etc. at school

An article in refers to the new "Web where little is done in isolation." I think that's a symbol of a *world* "where little is done in isolation." Physical isolation sometimes, maybe, but today's teen social-networkers are showing us that even when they're alone in a room at a connected computer (cellphone, gameplayer, or video MP3 player), they do very little in isolation. Smart educators are using blogs, wikis, email, collaborative podcasting, etc. to help education keep up with students' lives. The article is by Will Richardson, supervisor of instructional technology at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey. He's summarizing his new book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. The Poughkeepsie Journal reports on how K-6 students in different states use videoconferencing to share research and collaborate on writing projects. And a Penn State press release tells of how an adolescent psychology professor uses teen blogs and social-networking profiles as her "textbook" in students' study of adolescent behavior. There are now ed-tech companies offering blogging and videoconferencing services to schools, as well as a network of classrooms to connect with, e.g., a collaboration of ePals and Scholastic.

Canadian cybersex study

Toronto-based dating site conducted a nationwide survey that found 87% of Canadian college and university students "admit to having virtual sex over IM, Webcams, or the telephone," Christian news site reports. The article quotes Donna Rice-Hughes, president of online-safety organization Enough is Enough, as pointing out that a high level of exposure to virtual sex isn't just happening at the college level and certainly isn't just about exploitation by adults. "As an example she notes that in statistics provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one of the largest categories of online perpetrators who were soliciting sex from other minors were minor children themselves." For a psychiatrist's survey of the latest research see "Online sex & child protection" in my 3/10 issue.

Kids too wired?

That's a question being asked in Time magazine's cover story this week, "The Multitasking Generation." Because the whole story isn't available to nonsubscribers of Time, I'm glad CNN provides a summary. We all know that, in many cases, "by the time many kids get to college, their devices have become extensions of themselves, indispensable social accessories." But the summary seems to be saying that it's not so much the technology as their "highly scheduled lives" and related pressures that's the bigger problem. It's "important for parents and educators to teach kids, preferably by example, that it's valuable, even essential, to occasionally slow down, unplug and take time to think about something for a while," according to CNN. Don't miss what Sudbury, Massachusetts, psychiatrist and author Edward Hallowell says in the very last paragraph of CNN's summary. I think he's nailed it. [Time's sidebar, "A dad's encounter with the vortex of Facebook" offers a readable, balanced perspective.] Then there's a commentary on a new study by BBDO Energy of 13-to-18-year-old "super-connectors": "They want the world to conform to their views, meaning personalization and customization are imperatives, not nice-to-have extras. They want conversations in the world of many-to-many, not broadcast dictums from on high."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Social-networking, Korean-style

Could this be the future of US social-networking? I'm referring to South Korea-based Cyworld, as described in Business Week. At 15 million users (nearly a third of South Korea's population), it's proportionately even bigger than MySpace. Business Week says 90% of Koreans in their late teens and early 20s are hooked on Cyworld. So what is it? It's basically a social-networking site where people create their own home pages that are like rooms and "can accommodate an unlimited numbers of photos, documents, and other goodies." What makes it even more addictive, BW says, is little "extra twists" like the way users can decorate their "rooms" with digital furniture and art, and enhance the visitor's experience with music and videos (a virtual couch costs about $.60 in real money – Cyworld makes money selling these virtual goods). Everyone has his/her own avatar. "Since avatars stop by, the idea is to make your space as cool as possible." Users can access Cyworld by mobile phone as well, which is something MySpace is working on (see "Phone as fashion statement?", in my 2/24 issue). "One feature that has helped Cyworld take off is 'wave riding.' It works like this: When you're reading posts on bulletin boards or looking at photo files, you can click on the name of someone who has added a remark or photo you find interesting and you'll be transported to that person's digital room. If you like the art or music, you can introduce yourself and put in a request to become a 'cybuddy.' If accepted, you can use your buddy's goodies - from art to photos - on your own page." People with similar tastes turn into virtual and real-world clubs and communities. [BTW, MySpace, at about 64 million members now, only needs about 35 million more to reach Cyworld's one-third-of-its-country-level of membership.]

Videogames' 'true impact'

This is an interesting, maybe even exciting, prospect to consider: Because our children are growing up with videogames, "they'll treat the world as a place for creation, not consumption," writes Will Wright, creator of The Sims, in Wired magazine. If we watch our kids playing videogames, we'll notice, he says, that "the last thing they do is read the manual. Instead, they pick up the controller and start mashing buttons to see what happens. This isn't a random process; it's the essence of the scientific method. Through trial and error, players build a model of the underlying game based on empirical evidence collected through play. As the players refine this model, they begin to master the game world. It's a rapid cycle of hypothesis, experiment, and analysis. And it's a fundamentally different take on problem-solving than the linear, read-the-manual-first approach of their parents." He explains how game design and production is changing - how, increasingly, the player is actually participating in game development, as gameplay and community are combined (in massively multiplayer online game worlds).

*How* to protect ears?

We hear a lot about earbuds' riskiness, but not a lot about how to *avoid* damaging ears. Eliot Van Buskirk, a writer and musician who says music lovers are particularly at risk, has a whole list of things people can do to reduce ear-damage risk in this age of highly mobile music. At least until better-designed earbuds are sold. The list is on p.2 of his article in Wired magazine.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Teens 'crave' contact with parents: Study

There's a certain credibility to the results of a survey of 46,000 respondents! Boys & Girls Clubs of America has just unveiled its "Youth Report to America," "the largest national survey developed and administered by teens," BGCA's press release says. A number of news outlets highlighted what the 13-to-18-year-old respondents said about their relationship with their parents (of significance in the online-safety field), on p. 5 of the survey: "Today's youth maintain very close ties to their parents," BGCA says, with such findings as: 37% of respondents saying their relationship with their parents/guardians was most important to them ("interestingly, only 9% … listed their relationship with their counselor/advisor as most important). "Young people stated that their parents also help guide the choices that they make. Surprisingly, nearly half (45%) … feel that their parents most significantly influence their decisions, rather than their peers." BGCA quotes child psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School prof. Alvin F. Poussaint as saying that "youth value the opinions of their adult mentors, especially their parents' opinion. Our kids want to be heard." Here's coverage from TV stations in Waco, Texas and Sacramento, among several using variations of the headline: "Survey: Teens Fear War, Crave Parental Contact."

Yet another Apple patch

Apple today issued its third security patch in less than three weeks, but this week's is more a patch of a patch, Internet News reports. The patch will probably come automatically - this page at Apple's site explains how that works. Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs offers details and background links at the bottom of his blog.