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Friday, September 07, 2007

If Gandhi had a MySpace profile

"What would Gandhi have done if he had a MySpace account?" Stephen Carrick-Davies, CEO of Childnet International, asked social networkers at a talk he gave this past weekend in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. He asked them to use social networking to "channel their creativity, energy, idealism and vision in creating and promoting peace across cultures and borders," to "be the change you want to see," as Gandhi put it. "'Don’t wait for the adults to do it,'" Stephen told youth among a capacity audience at the international conference on technology for peace. "So many [adults] don’t fully understand this new space. Rather, start yourselves with your own network of friends." Stephen was referring, according to Childnet's press release, to the opportunity as well as risk that cyberbullying presents all of us (teens, parents, educators, policymakers, etc.). There has never been a more overt, society-wide example of how it's really only "self-regulation" and individual behavior that can defeat a problem like cyberbullying (recent research at the University of New Hampshire shows that aggressive behavior puts the aggressor at risk). The social Web is highly unruly, in many ways lawless, but it's not the problem. In his speech, Stephen cited Vint Cerf's recent comment on BBC Radio about how the social Web is simply a mirror of human society and behavior. "If you don’t like what you see in the mirror you don’t simply blame the mirror," Stephen said (I wish some American policymakers could've been in Sharm El Sheikh).

Schools can help, Stephen suggested, as can parents. “Educating children about how to behave online and understand the very real safety issues is supremely relevant to the teaching of citizenship and personal safety in schools. If the role of schools is to prepare children for life outside of the school gate and help children think for themselves, then it needs to be relevant to the world children are inhabiting. ICT is crucial for the knowledge economy and is now such an important life skill, it’s time schools taught children how to live life to the full online, and that includes safety and moral responsibilities in environments that aren’t used in the classroom, such as instant messaging, chat and social-networking sites.” In any case, if social networking forces us to focus more on social ethics and citizenship in homes and schools, I don't think it's a stretch to say it's a gift to humanity.

About the conference: The first of its kind, the conference was organized by The Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement and gathered 600+ teens from 100 countries "to review how ICT could be better used in promoting and sustaining a culture of peace among young people." Besides Egypt First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, it was attended by senior IT industry and NGO executives, government officials, and representatives from the UN, the ITU, and the Global Alliance for ICT and Development.

CA videogame law update

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appealed a federal court's injunction against a law banning violent videogame sales to minors, the Associated Press reports. "The law, signed by the governor in 2005, prohibits the sale or rental of violent video games to anyone under the age of 18 and requires that such games be clearly labeled. Retailers who violated the act would be fined up to $1,000 for each violation." The judge had found the law unconstitutional, saying its definition of violence was too broad and its supporters had failed to show a clear relationship between videogame play and children's behavior. "His decision echoed a string of rulings in other states where similar laws were blocked by challenges by video game industry groups," the AP added.

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Laws & child exploitation

The Vancouver Sun cites some outdated research from the US and confuses chatrooms with social-networking sites, but this about Canadian law and online child exploitation is notable: Because Canada's age of consent is 14, "under Canadian law, a 54-year-old man from Berlin can fly to Vancouver to have consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl he met on Facebook. Chillingly, neither the young girl's parents nor the police would be able to do a thing about it," the Sun reports. It adds that "these types of cases will continue to be prevalent in Canada until Bill C-22, which raises the age of consent to 16, is passed through the Senate." Canadian police say that because of 1) current law, 2) a lack of resources for law enforcement to focus on Internet crime, and 3) "Canadian youth are among the world's most active Internet users" (80% have access at home, 50% with little or no supervision), "it's up to parents to be more vigilant."

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Hacking ethics

A Sydney Morning Herald commentator looks at the ethical questions around 17-year-old George Hotz's iPhone hack. There's no question it's a great story: "In a quest for a car that will win all the girls, some no-name kid in the US devotes his last summer before college to unlocking the seemingly impenetrable iPhone. Corporate giants Apple and AT&T watch helplessly as this kid kills their monopoly with a soldering iron and a pile of energy drinks, then pours the know-how out over the Internet." Here's my post on the news story. This is great material for a discussion with any hackers in your house or classroom involving questions like, "Could you have done this hack?" "Would you have, should he have?" "Why/why not?" "Even if it was legal, should it have been?" There are no black 'n' white answers, but this is the kind of discussion that develops the "filter" between kids' ears, the kind that can handle any and all change and growth the user-driven Internet throws at our youth and us.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Students: Portable is good

For students shopping for computers these days, "it's clear what most will be opting for: anything that can be packed up and taken to go," CNET reports (adding that 90% of Amazon's top-selling computers right now are notebooks). They also want style and convenience features, of course: "like Bluetooth connectivity, integrated Webcams, and fast boot times." Students aren't just looking for laptops, though, of course - they're shopping for "smart phones, digital cameras, all-in-one printers, and of course, a hip case in which to lug their new notebook around."

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Facebook more public

Soon anyone will be able to search for a Facebook user, whether or not he or she is a registered user. The social site will be preparing users for the change for the next 30 days, telling them they can set their privacy settings so their profiles can't be searched for from the public Web, Reuters reports. Then, in a month, Facebook will have a search box on its home page and search engines' Web crawlers will be allowed to crawl Facebook's population of 39 million users (up 62.5% from 24 million in late May, Reuters says. What search engine users will be able to turn up is a Facebook user's basic profile, the BBC reports: "the thumbnail picture of a Facebook member from their profile page as well as links allowing people to interact with them. But, in order to add someone as a friend or send them a message, the person will have to be registered with Facebook."

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Videogamers & the 'game of life'

Parents of gamers (and gamer parents) might be interested in a thoughtful piece in the Ottawa Citizen by education technology Prof. Constance Steinkuehler at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Referring to the perception gaps between gamers and politicians and between gamers and people over 35, Professor Steinkuehler cites Pew Internet statistics ("more than eight out of every 10 kids in America have a game console in the home and over half have two or more") indicating that we might want to bridge this divide that she straddles. "I talk to parents, teachers, librarians and other professors about the social and intellectual value of gameplay. And I talk to game players and designers about why education is important and how research on learning might have something important to say about how games are designed and experienced." Here are the intellectual practices gaming involves which she studies: "collaborative problem solving, reading and writing practices that use highly specialized language, scientific habits of mind such as hypothesis testing and revision, skills in information and communication technology (IT literacy), and argumentation." Steinkuehler says that "such practices are the mainstay of online gameplay. Together, they form that 21st-century skill set so crucial to democratic success." She also talks about online games as "third places" or useful "hangouts" (see "Digital hangouts" posted in this blog Monday). And speaking of videogames, the Washington Post just profiled "the new face of videogames" on Capitol Hill, Michael Gallagher, the Entertainment Software Association's new president, who keeps a Nintendo DS in his suit coat pocket.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Not 'the new Dr. Spock'

The headline of a recent CNET interview with MIT professor Henry Jenkins suggests he might be, but - though he isn't a pediatrician or child development specialist - he is one of the US's top experts on social media. So he knows a lot about how young people's social producing and creative networking with digital media. Referring to research showing that "57% of teens online have produced media and about a third of them have produced media that they shared with people beyond their immediate friends and families," Dr. Jenkins told CNET that those 57% "are kids who are learning to share knowledge, to collaborate over distances, to work with people from diverse backgrounds, to participate in a global culture - those are really powerful things that are emerging in this generation. But they're also facing dilemmas about intellectual property, cyberbullying and how to navigate these environments." It's challenging to parent them as they do this navigating, he says, challenges that "are not anything their parents taught them how to deal with. They don't have a language to talk to their kids about a lot of the issues they're facing online." It's becoming more imperative to learn enough about social networking to try to talk with our kids, I'd say, because - if we try too hard to control or even ban it, communication breaks down and kids go underground. They have so many workarounds and opportunities to connect without our knowledge. "Turning your home into a surveillance culture where you don't trust your kids is dangerous because you're going to make it harder to communicate with your child," Henry told CNET. "So part of what I've argued is that the kids don't need someone looking over their shoulders, they need someone watching their backs." For more on his research and views, see "Participation: Key opp for kids."

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cheaper textbooks online

Well, most everybody knows that. But the great news from New York Times Cyberfamilias columnist Michelle Slatalla is It's "an umbrella search site that sifts through the inventories of hundreds of thousands booksellers worldwide, started a simple, easy-to-use textbook search tool. The way it works: enter a title, I.S.B.N. or author’s name in Bookfinder’s textbooks search box to navigate a huge database of 125 million new and used books. You can compare prices, shipping costs and the availability of less expensive editions published overseas." She offers other tips and links to other useful Web sites for savvy student shoppers.


Cellphone parental controls available

It was a gleam in some early adopter parents' eyes back in 2004 when I first wrote about phone controls; now a reality. Today AT&T launches a service that might make for a little more cellphone-related family harmony: "Smart Limits" for $4.99 a month. "Many parents want their children to have access to cellphones for safety reasons, but they don't want them making or receiving non-emergency calls during the school day, chatting away all the shared family-plan minutes or bloating the bill with text messaging charges," AT&T told the Associated Press. "The functions, ranging from call blocking and hour limits to text message and download allowances, will be set through a website. Calls to or from a parent's number can be made to override the restrictions, and calls to 911 can be made anytime." Smart Limits also includes filtering if Web access is within the AT&T phone network (it won't work on an iPhone or when any phone is using a wi-fi hot spot for Web browsing outside the company's network). Here's the Detroit Free Press's coverage, which says about 79% of US 15-to-17-year-olds have cellphones.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Online hangouts: Teens exploring ID

Most adults know that a lot happens when teens are "hanging out," and all that personal and social development's happening in online hangouts now too. Two researchers supported by the MacArthur Foundation offer insights into what's happening in two such "places" - YouTube and Faraway Lands. In "Self Production and Social Feedback Through Online Video-Sharing on YouTube," psychologist Sonja Baumer describes what went into and came out of a video by 19-year-old "Fatalshade" (her screenname), who grew up on a family farm. Fatalshade "indicates that the video has enabled her to understand the complexity of growing up and confusion around the feelings and desires that teenagers often encounter," Baumer writes. And in "You Have Another World to Create: Teens and Online Hangouts," sociologist C.J. Pascoe describes how one teen, Clarissa, explores identity and role-plays with "friends from all over the world" in her favorite online hangout, Faraway Lands. For more insights and stories - including "Coming of Age in Networked Public Culture," by Heather Horst - see the Digital Youth Research site at University of California, Berkeley.

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Facebook & MySpace in Oz

Social networking growth patterns in Australia makes for an interesting case study for parents looking for a bigger picture. MySpace has 3.8 million profiles in Australia, while Facebook has 141,000 Australian members. But Facebook grew by 273% in Australia between April and June, putting it in that country's top 5 online communities and "outpacing the industry leader," Australian IT cites Hitwise as reporting. Hitwise found that 18% of Facebook visitors arrived there directly from Hotmail, "where they may have received emails from friends asking them to join Facebook," and "nearly 10% came directly from a MySpace page." They're not abandoning MySpace, though, Hitwise added - there's just "a lot of crossover." "Twenty-three percent of MySpace traffic came directly from Google Australia."

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