10 May 2007

Generation M

I just read part of this good article on how to parent "the media generation." I feel really lucky that I used email and IM starting when I was 16 and that I was right on the bandwagon and thick into technology when friendster and google happened.

There are two main thoughts I had to supplement the article.

First of all, media technology may be the way of the future, and kids are learning early online social skills, research skills, and creative skills--ie, they are "playing in information" as the article says. However, from being in the workplace after college I saw a problematic form of performance metric in our jobs-- hours with your butt in the chair. 15 years ago, when you sat down in your office job, the only thing you could do to distract yourself is pick up the landline phone. Otherwise you had to just sit at your desk and either daydream or just get your work done. No one can daydream all day, and anyway if you stare out the window all day people get suspicious. So it was easier for people to get work done because there was nothing else to distract them.

I think that now it is possible for people to sit at their desk--and in fact look quite busy-- all while using internet and networking media technology. And this practice is not only bad for the company, but it's horrible for the person practicing it-- work becomes a constant struggle to learn how to focus.

I believe virtual worlds and multitasking are not better, only alternatives to real worlds and focus. In the end I think both will be needed. And for someone to teach their media kid how to focus, I think one of the best ways would be to find something cool and exciting on the web-- and print it out and take it to a quiet place where there are no distractions. For example, your kid could learn how to design sound canceling headphones or practice drawing.

Secondly, the article refers to "cell phone etiquette" as if this is something which has been defined by my parents' generation. The truth is, kids often don't care if their friends answer their cell phone on the first ring, interrupting the conversation (even at the dinner table!). Etiquette is not something set in stone, but instead something that involves being sensitive to how the people around you feel about your actions. I think old fogies (I unfortunately have to include myself here) will just have to accept the fact that what makes them uncomfortable may not make other people uncomfortable, and to teach their kids to have some sensitivities to all the different types of reactions. For example I think (hope) it's still safe to say that you shouldn't answer your phone at Thanksgiving dinner or at dinner with grandma, but otherwise you might just teach them to extend a courteous, "Do you mind if I answer this?" the first time it happens in uncertain circumstances.

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