Sunday, May 31, 2009

Are You Part of the Digital Nation?

Last year, a friend of mine sent me a link, saying "You guys should check out this episode of Frontline." It was a link to an episode titled Growing Up Online about how technology and the internet has radically changed the way kids learn, interact and live.  But me, watch an entire hour of video online?  I'm the YouTube generation, 3 minutes tops please.  He asked me a few more times if I watched it, saying that I really should for my kids' sake.  No time, too busy.

Earlier this month, Erin of the Manic Mommies sent me an invitation to attend a Frontline discussion of their Digital Nation project at WGBH.  Sure, that sounded cool.  A few days before the event, I thought about the link that my friend gave me and wondered if it had anything to do with this project.  After digging around a bit, I found that Growing Up Online was actually the precursor to Digital Nation, so I finally set aside a lunchtime to watch it.

When I finally watched Growing Up Online, it simply blew my mind.  It showed classrooms completely run through laptops.  Students submitted papers online so that teachers could easily run it through a plagiarism checker.  It showed a girl who had a secret "adult" identity on MySpace with a huge following.  She was completely crushed when she had to take everything down after her parents found out.  And then it showed a chilling story about a boy who committed suicide because of cyber-bullying.  This story really touched me because this boy was a beautiful, sensitive kid, so much like my own son.  If it could happen to him, it could happen to my child.

At the WGBH event, we watched a video clip about how the Digital Nation project came to be with producer and director, Rachel Dretzin:

(If you don't see the video, go there and click "Inside Digital Nation")

I actually watched this video clip prior to the event because I couldn't stop checking out all the cool clips at their site. Another thing that they invited us to do was to create our own video content to add to the conversation. The Digital Nation episode is an interactive work in progress and is scheduled to air in Winter 2010.  One thought that I came away with was succinctly tweeted by @KristenSB during the event, "#dig_nat we are the last generation who remembers a non-digital world. What of that past do we want to pass along to our children?"

Attending this event reminded me of how we need to carefully navigate the technological waters with our kids. Adam (age 8) loves all things gadget; he easily beats me at Nintendo DS and Wii games and he can spend hours on the computer. We haven't limited his "screen time" as long as he does all his other activities, including homework, reading, practicing piano, chores and soccer practices (and running around outside when we tell him to). This is probably blasphemy in other parent's books, but I know that computers will be a big part of his life, as it is a huge part of mine. I sometimes think that it is so cool that I sit in front of a computer creating software applications for a living.

The other night, I brought some work home and proceeded to edit a dialog.  Adam hopped into bed with me to watch.  I explained the behavior that I wanted to achieve.  When I press this button, I want it to stay down, become bold and disabled, while an adjacent button would come up enabled and have focus.  I added a few lines of code at a time, compiled and tested it.  For every change, he understood exactly what was going to happen.  I showed him that once I did one button, I could copy and paste the code to the other button and just change a few characters (software development is 95% detailed copy and paste skills).

It made complete sense to him and he said, "That's not so hard!"

"Oh no, don't tell my boss that it's so easy."

The next night I had my laptop in bed again, and he said, "Oh goody, work!"

"No way Mister, I'm blogging tonight!"  You gotta draw the line on such fun.

I remember thinking when Adam was a baby, that it would be so cool when he got old enough to type so then I could instant message him from work.  Now I'm thinking, how long can I hold off before he needs to IM his friends?  At this point, we restrict his internet access by using the free Kidzui browser, which limits browsing to parent-approved sites.  He spends his time playing silly games, as well as Webkinz and Club Penguin.  He's made virtual friends and we've had the "talk" about what is appropriate to chat with others.  Before long, he will be just like one of the kids featured in Growing Up Online.  At least I won't have to join facebook in order to friend him, as I will always be one step ahead on the Internet (I hope).

It was also great to catch up with other bloggers at the event, Christine Koh (Boston Mamas), Christy (More Than Mommy), and Kristin (Manic Mommies). I also finally met "Media Maven" C.C. Chapman (Accident Hash and the new Digital Dads), who took an awesome photo of me, and Laura Tomasetti (360 Days in a PR Life).  And a quick hello to Mommy Niri who I will get to chat with more at the BlogHer Boston-area get together on June 13.

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