new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Internet Socializing Will Not Lead To Amber Alerts, Abduction

Friday, December 12, 2008

Internet Socializing Will Not Lead To Amber Alerts, Abduction

Speaking of new media.....

Teenager's Internet Socializing Not A Bad Thing -

"“It may look as though kids are wasting a lot of time hanging out with new media, whether it’s on MySpace or sending instant messages,” said Mizuko Ito, lead researcher on the study, “Living and Learning With New Media.” “But their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.”

I realized I hadn't commented on this new study. Which is ironical in the extreme, since I am ever so fond on harping on how (horrors) the internet will NOT harm or warp children and cause them to drive away into the sunset with ex-cons named Susan. Really. It will not.

I'd like to comment first on the notion that kids are "wasting" their time by hanging out on the internet. Parents, I would like you to think back ere' the inky black decades and remember when you were teenagers: you know, poodle skirts, sock hops, girls named Rizzo, so forth. Did you spend many hours talking on the phone and listening to the Beatles? Did your grizzled, lantern jawed WWII veteran father bang on your door and scream "STOP TALKING ON THE PHONE AND LISTENING TO THEM SHAGGY HAIRED FAGS", perchance? Did you flip him off behind the closed door and concoct more elaborate schemes to talk on the phone and listen to Dirty Trash Music regardless of his opinions? Did you turn out okay anyway?

I presume you see the analogy here. You, parents, are making the same assumption your parents did: that anything new is by definition 1. stupid, 2. contentless, and 3. possibly extremely dangerous. This is not a battle you are going to win.

I turned 20 fairly recently and I can state with total confidence that the internet and text messaging are how we communicate. We as a generation do not actually call each other much on the phone - but we sure as hell will text and IM each other until our little quivering thumbs fall off. This stems from the same impulse you, parents, had back in the day: we want to talk to our friends and connect with our peer group. The vast majority of us have very limited interest in talking to ex-cons named Susan.

I am also a geek and grew up a geek. Internet socializing is of even more vital importance to the awkward-inclined, and I will explain why:

First: internet friendships can be a good thing. For lonely or awkward teenagers, they can be an absolute lifesaver. Back in the halcyon, sepia-tinted days of your youth (what was with those shorts? really?,) awkward loners had no social options other then being slammed up against lockers and building ham radios. They were tragic, terrible days to be a smartie pants or a geek, a veritable dark ages for awkward kid-dom. To geeks, the day the internet was created is remembered as a day when the heavens opened and angels brilliant voices trilled out across the entire universe: We No Longer Had To Be Alone.

And what a wonderful thing this connection is. A geek can now find people across the world who share his or her interests, people who understand what they are going through. They can provide a network of caring and support that the embryonic geekling cannot find at school or even within his or her family. I've seen this support network save and vastly enhance lives that were rather small and poor prior: I'm one of them. Internet friendships can turn into rewarding real-life friendships - and no, even face to face meetings very rarely end in horrible murder and Amber Alerts and Kidnapped Blonde Virgin Warnings. Really. Pinkie swear.

Parents, my point is this: the internet is not evil, it is not useless, and it is not a "waste of time." The internet is how my generation interfaces with and encounters the world, and can be an agent of great social change - look at the organization behind the recent Presidential election or the vast network of real-time bloggers. Kids who are adept at using the internet and comfortable with the online world go into the workforce with a considerable advantage: they will be able to use the milleniums most dynamic tool with aplomb and grace. Don't trap your kids in dinosaur-like thinking - step through the door of the future with confidence that your kids may actually be doing the right thing. You raised them, didn't you?

(P.S: Installing that Net Nanny software is pointless. Any kid with an IQ above slime mold can disable it in the amount of time it takes you to clip your toenails. Just FYI.)

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