Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Catch your step! It won't stop for you!

Last evening after a movie, I was on my way out of the cinema and took the escalator. In front of me, there was a young mommy and her toddler daughter. I was expecting the little girl (who couldn't have been more than 3 years old) to fumble with her steps onto the escalator, but instead, she just hopped onto it without a thought. Images of the numerous scenes in escalators in Indian malls came to mind, teenage daughters urging her mother to take the first step. And the mother unsteadily, fearfully, trying hard to make the first step in time.

It got me thinking about the growing ease at which kids being born into this world are socialized into a technology filled existance and the increasing divide that technology is creating in our society. In a sense, they are “cultural pioneers” inventing a whole new world as they go along.
Especially, in terms of their exposure to a mobile connectivity and social networks as a part of their early years of development, leads them to experience a new world of hypersocialization, instantaneous access, and collaborative intelligence that has never been experienced before by previous generations.

But new technology and children is has always been a site of inter-generational tension.(Recall the debates about violence in Tom & Jerry shows and computer games?) On one hand, children are viewed as vulnerable, innocent and undergoing fragile developmental phases. On the other, they are are seen as innovative users of the internet and other new technologies.

Of course the new media brings with it a new set of fears- and justifiably so. In fact, The Times of India's Crest edition carried an article last week entitled a “The end of innocence” listing the risks and threats to a child's innocence and safety that the internet brings- cyberbullying, access to pornographic content and other “age inappropriate” information.

Yet at the same time, our fears should not prevent them from gaining the benefits of a globally connected informaton society.

So rather than blanket rejections of a “Scary new world” or total acceptance of the role of technology and the internet to be able to spur new innovations among children, thought must be given to the age appropriate technology and access to kids. A child's greatest influences till the age of 15, are their school environment, peer group and most importantly their parents.

And with who does this responsibility lie? Regulating age appropriate access requires firstly an understanding of where kids gain access, how the scope of difference in this access works, and finally, what the risks of exposure are. After all, only through learning from our children and their use of technology can we understand the trends and direction of the knowledge society of tomorrow....

The author is a social media researcher and technology anthropologist who lives her life on the web

1 comment:

  1. 'Cultural pioneers'- very apt. Your comment on multiple influence sources is very interesting.

    Two questions:
    (a) How have internet, cell phones etc amended the sense of what constitutes environment and understanding of nature & nurture impact?
    (b) "Instant Gratification" and learning: Learning sport, say tennis would take several months/years to begin hitting proficiency levels and 'wins' in the real world. How does this instant gratification of winning an online tennis match based on a few keys - all downloaded and learnt in 20 mins influence our ability to persist/learn new skills inspite of the relatively delayed gratification in learning skills in the brick 'n' mortar world?

    Or is this an armchair debate issue, a misplaced concretion fallacy?

    New version of the old "TV: Boon or Bane" debate from our middle school days, and we will settle down to era of adjusted coexistence (like TV and books have made peace?)



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