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What’s In Your Family’s Digital Future?

January 10th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

My daughter signed up my oldest grandson, eight, for his first gmail account. Within a few hours he had figured out how to sign on his little brother, who turned five last June. He already knows how to check his email on his mother’s iTouch.   This didn’t happen out of nowhere.  When he was three or four, he learned how to read the word “START” by logging on to his Webkinz account, and now he and his younger brother frequent Club Penguin where they can “waddle around and meet new friends.”   It’s social media with training wheels.

What’s happening in my daughter’s house is happening almost everywhere.   I hear other women talk about following their (older) grandchildren on Facebook, keeping in touch via Skype, learning how to text because a teenage grandchild thinks emails are lame.

Undoubtedly, a lot of good will come from our digital connectedness.   Perhaps technology can help build better intergenerational relationships.  We can relate to our grandkids without always having to go through their parents.  We’ll learn more details and more nuanced information about our grandchildren than our grandparents ever knew about us–who their friends are,  their likes and dislikes.   Even when it’s hard or impossible to see each other, we have ways of staying in touch.  And who knows?  Maybe they’ll think we’re hip (or whatever word they use now) because we didn’t get stuck in the Industrial Age!

All to the good, but even scientists who study the effects of the Internet don’t know where all this connection and conversation will eventually take us.  In her new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Teachnology and Less from Each Other, MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who has been pondering these questions for the last 15 years, notes that we’re only at “the beginning.”  She raises some important issues about computer-mediated communications, among them…

… Teenagers today prefer texting over talking, and adults choose keyboards over telephones, because it’s “more efficient.” Will they lack skills of empathy given their diminishing face-to-face exchanges?

… Now that so many of us live life online, what does it mean to our potential for intimacy when so many of our relationships are with and through technology?

… Are our new technologies, with their demand for instant attention and immediate answers, leading to greater anxiety and a meaningless competition for contacts?

… Will the digital footprints we’re creating come back to haunt us?  What happens to an entire generation that lives its life online?

Turkle graciously allowed us to abridge and reprint a portion of Alone Together for The Buzz“Send Me a Letter”: Mothers, Daughters, and Technology.   I urge you to go read more.  It’s an important and readable book that can help us better understand the mass “experiment” in which we’re all unwittingly participating.

Refreshingly, Turkle rejects the notion that we’re “addicted” to technology, among other reasons because it’s not a substance we’re going to discard. As she writes:

We will not go “cold turkey” or forbid cell phones to our children. We are not going to stop the music or go back to television as the family hearth. I believe we will find new paths toward each other, but considering ourselves victims of a bad substance is not a good first step. The idea of addiction, with its one solution that we know we won’t take, makes us feel hopeless. We have to find a way to live with seductive technology and make it work to our purposes.

Accordingly, I used my grandson’s first email to me as a teaching moment:

“How do I know it’s you?” I wrote. “Tell me something about me so I know that it’s you.”

The next email came back–and I reprint here exactly what I received:

“your dogs name is bogey, I’TS ME!”

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One Response to “What’s In Your Family’s Digital Future?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melinda Blau, Mother U. Mother U said: Our Digital Future–The Good and the Potentially Scary […]

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