For the record, let’s stipulate that there’s a lot of worthless, if not downright offensive, material online and that some who lurk in cyberspace have less than honorable intentions. Let’s agree, too, that some of us are smitten, perhaps too much, by our tech toys. Accordingly, MIT professor Sherry Turkle warns us in her new, must-read book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other, we ought to consider the “price” of our “enchantment” with technology. (Read an excerpt here.)
But as Turkle is quick to remind us, the Internet isn’t going anywhere. It will continue to change everything from our relationships to our professions to the way we think about life. The question of how it will change us, though, is up to us. Howard Rheingold, the man who coined the terms “virtual communities” and “smart mobs” and has had a front-row seat on the unfolding drama of the Internet, puts it this way:
Will our grandchildren grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them personally or professionally, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn to their benefit and that of everyone else? Or will they grow up knowing that the online world is a bewildering puzzle to which they have few clues, a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?… the humanity or toxicity of next year’s digital culture depends to a very large degree on what we know, learn, and teach each other.
Call me an optimist, but I think we can seize the digital future-ironically by joining forces and sharing the experience with digital natives–children and teens who have grown up with the Net (if not your own, a friend’s or neighbors’ kid!). This might seem counterintuitive. (more…)