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December 3, 2004

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Family PC: Backlash coming?

It's actually kind of surprising that the question - about the family PC as the "WMD" of "family values" - hasn't come up much (I think it has been flying under radar because of the other digital divide: kids are just so much more tech-fluent than grownups, and grownups are the ones with "radar detection"). But it's coming up now, and Wall Street Journal columnist Lee Gomes this week asked the question: "If America gets serious about doing battle over 'values,' will the Internet-enabled personal computer be able to stay out of the crosshairs?"

After all, Lee points out, "with a week or two of patient work, someone with their hands on the keyboard of [a Net-connected PC] - no matter his or her age - could download a Kinsey library of erotica, play videogames depicting the cruelest kinds of violence, steal a studio's worth of music and movies, and gamble away a small fortune."

The downsides of tech and the Net are indeed becoming clearer (or more widely reported):

But those are just the negatives. There is so much on the positive side. Just look at a few of the sites of young Webmasters who won Childnet Academy awards over the past seven years, or the international student and classroom connecting that organizations like iEARN are doing, or the way the Internet helps inform, empower, and mobilize people (e.g., "Targeting disabilities with tech" and the Million Woman March of '97).

My view (condensed): If the PC/WMD question raises awareness about the need for parents and educators to help children keep Net use constructive, then the question is good. A balanced, very public debate - airing the views of parents, researchers, educators, child advocates, policymakers, and the tech industry, would be even better. But parents mustn't overreact and pull the plug on our children's Internet use. The Internet is here to stay - a reality in this generation's lives and in many cases a positive one, at the very least an important learning tool for media literacy and their social and academic lives. Banning the Net at home only removes it from one part of their lives (the part where parents are most present), avoiding lessons that would be learned elsewhere or later, learning experiences in which parents may want to have a part.

But more important, tell us your view on the Internet in kids' lives. Is it a positive, a negative, or both?! At the turn of another year in the Digital Age, I would love to publish a sampling of parents' views on this subject that is here to stay in our parenting experiences! Email me anytime via

Small bytes: Evidence of the Net's staying-power

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Web News Briefs

  1. Get another patch!

    You need this latest "critical" patch for your (Windows) PC if you use Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. A critical flaw in IE could allow malicious hackers to take control of your computer, Reuters reports. You don't need it if you're one of those extra-careful and/or tech-literate folk who have already downloaded Microsoft's comprehensive Service Pack 2 for PC security. Otherwise (or if you have any questions), go to Windows Update and just scan your system to see what it needs to be up-to-date. (If you have a high-speed connection, I hope you also have firewall and anti-virus software installed!) Reuters says MS issued this patch outside its regularly scheduled security update cycle - another sign that it's important.

  2. Top 10 Xmas movies

    ...from classics to new releases, see this list of annotated movie lists at from fellow parents and avid moviegoers (real people like you and me). And long these lines, here's the Washington Post's DVD Holiday Gift Guide and now its "Holiday Guide to ... Holiday Guides." (In its KidsPost section, the Post also recently published its toy picks for 2004 and a report on how other new toys scored in their tests.)

  3. Tech replacing toys for kids?

    There are definite indicators that it is, not least at your house and mine. "Researchers report what parents already know: that children as young as 8 and 9 are asking for adult toys, like cellphones and iPods, rather than stuffed animals or toy trucks," according to the New York Times. The article cites recent Kaiser Family Foundation research finding that that half of all 4-to-6-year-olds have played video games, a quarter of them regularly. But this is the most interesting point of the article, toward the end: "While some neurologists and childhood historians argue that the growing tendency of children to play with electronic toys may stunt their imaginations, others contend that even babies find a way to adapt electronic toys to their natural mode of imaginative play. Kids may be acting out their own scripts when they play with video games, and many still have imaginary friends." Do you find that to be true with your children, or are you concerned about their interest in video games? Do send in your experience with younger kids and tech.

    While we're on the subject, the Wall Street Journal reports that not only are toys going high-tech, they're also going high-end: "In an otherwise-bleak retailing environment for playthings, premium-priced toys appear to be outdoing simpler, cheaper, Easy-Bake Oven-type diversions."

  4. Kids 2-11: Active Web-sters

    Children 2-11 are the age group with "the fastest growing appetite for Web pages viewed," reports Net traffic measurer Nielsen NetRatings, adding that the number of Web pages they visit has grown 106% over the past two years. Nielsen points out that, though they don't spend more time online than their elders, they "digest more content at a faster pace." As for gender, growth of Web-page consumption for boys under 12 surpassed that for girls: boys' grew 55% over the past year, compared to 22% for girls. Most interesting, though, were their Top 5 picks. For girls, communications sites were tops; for boys, it was entertainment. Two-to-11-year-old girls' Top 5 sites were MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Macromedia (maybe to download its Flash and Shockwave players for online games and other multimedia features). For boys, the Top 5 were Disney Channel, RealOne Player (downloadable online audio and video player), Kraft Entertainment (e.g., "Arctic 3D Racer snowmobile game promoting X-Treme JELL-O Sticks), Amazon, and Cartoon Network. [See the charts at eMarketer.]

  5. Net at college: TheFaceBook phenom

    If you have a college student in your family, you may've heard about (I spoke with just such a person about Gonzaga University's version over Thanksgiving dinner). The site/phenomenon "began 10 months ago with five Harvard students and is now the most popular way to either network or waste time for a million college students at around 300 colleges, from Yale to the University of the Pacific," the New York Times reports. It's not just the online version of the staple-bound collection of fellow freshmen's high school graduation pictures. It's a site-ful of their ever-updatable photos and profiles, with lists of favorite movies, books, deliverable foods, tunes, etc., as well as relationships status, of course. Along the lines of "click here to see if this babe [male or female] is available." It's so entertaining, the Times says, that "it's the Swiss Army knife of procrastination." Examples at Princeton, where "students with a few hours on their hands can sit in their dorms and check out the profiles of the 395 members of People Against Popped Collars (the preppy look of rolling up the collar of your knit shirt)," the Times reports, or "he or she could join groups like People Against Groups (15 members, first meeting July 23, 2025) ... Future Trophy Wives of America and groups actually about real things like politics or the outdoors."

    In its coverage of e-face books, USATODAY cites others, such as and, which have discussion boards and host students' blogs, or online journals. What does your university student think - do these services enhance or stunt his/her social development (the latter is what some critics say), or is s/he already pretty socially developed?

  6. AOL's PC security reviewed

    America Online is smart to be selling peace of mind for PC users with its latest version, but 9.0 doesn't fully deliver, the Washington Post reports. "Having brought you online, AOL is saying, we're going to keep you safe from all the things you're worried about there," writes Post tech writer Rob Pegoraro. "That is an eminently laudable goal. But it's one that this release can't quite achieve." His first complaint is that, though anti-spyware software comes with 9.0, the two most important security pieces - firewall and anti-virus - have to be downloaded and installed separately. Then users have to heed reminders in the "Safety on My PC" panel to install updates. The other main problem - though probably more a temporary bug - is that these security add-ons are just that - not seamlessly integrated into the service. But it's a great first step, and, heck, it's all free, for which AOL deserves some credit. In these days of numerous and growing security headaches, PC peace of mind is the worthiest of intentions, and AOL clearly has moved beyond good intentions.

  7. Oz gaffe: Child porn sent to schools

    It was a case of good intention gone very much awry. In an agreement between the New South Wales police and the Education Department, an officer inadvertently emailed child pornography images to 1,800 schools "while trying to warn principals about children at risk of abuse," Reuters reported. The images, sent so that victims could be identified, were supposed to be cropped for decency, but "computer problems have meant that in some cases the entire pornographic image was revealed when the email was opened," according to Australia's ABC News Online. There was nothing in the reports about anyone but school administrators seeing the images. According to Reuters, the incident occurred "during a police crackdown on child pornography that has so far resulted in more than 200 arrests, including police, teachers, clergy and the owner of a child-care center, after more than 400 raids."

  8. Stuffing those iPods

    No, not into Christmas stockings. I mean, stuffing those new iPods with music - entire CD collections, no less. It seems like a daunting task to some people, apparently, because a new service industry is filling this new niche: iPod-stuffing (maybe I even coined this!). The New York Times cites two companies in the New York City area - HungryPod and RipDigital - that convert the contents of people's CDs into MP3 files and load up their iPods. "RipDigital does not load music onto iPods directly, but burns it to DVD; for an additional fee it will load an external hard drive with music," the Times reports. Companies like these probably need to be local, because who would want to ship their entire collections to distant locations? HungryPod's proprietor, Catherine Keane, will even go to your home or office and pick up your CDs. My husband says this is kind of silly because it's so easy to load tunes on an iPod, but it sounds like a good idea to me - if only for the time saved. Or maybe it's a great way for teenaged techies to make some pocket change! Tell me if anyone young at your house is intrigued with the idea.

  9. Games on phones in India

    Mobile gaming is taking off, as "one of the fastest-growing activities among the tech-savvy in India, the BBC reports. Citing research from market researchers In-Stat/MDR, India's mobile gaming market will be $26 million by the end of '04 and is expected to reach $336 million by 2009 (globally, 220 million people will be playing games on phones by then). In India, the number of cell-phone users grew by 1.4 million in October alone - up to 44.9 million and surpassing the use of fixed phone lines. The growth is attributed to India's large youth population. That spells jobs for publishers, developers, animators, musicians, and content providers. "Currently, India has six big games developers and four mobile operators that offer games to their subscribers," the BBC adds.

  10. Parent-teacher e-conferences

    It's probably true everywhere: parent-teacher conferences as a scheduling nightmare, with 12-hour days for teachers and long waits for parents. In some Detroit-area schools, email "conferences" have become an alternative, the Detroit Free Press reports - at least for the parents of "high-achieving students." According to the Free Press, "many teachers agree that an alternative to the must-attend conference is necessary. But some are less certain about what will be lost and what will be gained with email. And even after years of computer training, not all teachers are at ease with email." What do you think? Is an email PTC just as good, or just better than nothing, when parent-teacher schedules just can't be lined up? Email me (anytime)!

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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