If you ever wondered why parents can come across as worried and cranky members of the digital world, check out Noam Cohen's Link by Link blog post, Use My Photo? Not Without Permission. Cohen tells the story of a 15-year old high school girl, Alison Chang, from Dallas who was goofing off at a local church-sponsored car wash. Her church youth counselor snapped a photo and uploaded it to the photo-sharing site Flickr, where it caught the eye of an Australian advertising agency. Next thing you know, Alison's likeness appeared on a billboard in Australia.… Read more
I woke up Monday to the announcement that starting September 24, the XO laptop (famous as the little laptop that could) will be made available to buyers in so-called first-world countries, in quantities less than 100,000 units. In fact, for less than $400 you can give one and receive another--an excellent solution to an age-old moral dilemma.… Read more
A group of kids from one of our local elementary schools has formed a "mini-laptop club." They don't use electronic machines. Instead, these first-, second- and third-graders draw their own laptops on construction paper and pretend to e-mail each other. They dedicate a surprising amount of time to this activity. I once had a chance to examine one of their "keyboards." I was fascinated to learn which Internet functions had sunk into the minds of these kids, who are just getting their first exposure to computers from watching their parents work, and from using kid-friendly sites. Follow the page jump to see one of their designs.… Read more
The battle between parents, school, and teens over cell phones involves many levers to push and pull. Now AT&T has added a new twist: for $4.99 per month per line, parents can add on customized controls through the new "Smart Limits" service. Phone options include limiting talk time, text messages, instant messages, and Web content and downloads.
Teens naturally balk at the idea of limits, but there are many advantages to making these controls available.… Read more
When you look at technological generation gaps, the ubiquity of cell phones is one of the dividing lines between youth and "elders." Today's teens can't imagine life without cell phones, and if you walk across a college campus you'll see students glued to their phones seemingly at every waking moment.
On the adult authority figure side of this divide, some school districts, including Cleveland and New York City, are trying to ban cell phones outright. Now I can understand an "out-of-sight, out of trouble" approach, but the strictest bans prohibit the devices anywhere on campus, even in the bottom of a backpack or a locker. Kids are ingenious in their attempts to come up with creative ways around the ban, everything from hiding a phone in a sandwich roll to parking the devices for a fee at a nearby store. … Read more
It's back to school time, and Internet safety expert Linda Criddle has come up with homework for schools, students and parents: Do a safety checkup of your school's Web site to ensure that it is not making too much personal information publicly available.
She has created Guidelines for Safer School Web Sites to help schools cope with the new realities of our information society. News that can be appropriately shared within a school community--student names, team affiliations, sports practice times, and photos, for example--can expose students to considerable risk for misuse when shared with the whole world online.… Read more
The upcoming reality show Kid Nation was designed to show what happens when 40 children, ages 8 to 15, are thrown together in a desert "ghost town" to manage their own community for 40 days. Parents and commentators across the country are appalled by the idea that the kids were left largely unsupervised, and that some were injured in mishaps including four children who drank bleach and one who was burned in the face with hot grease.
When I was a high school student, I hated writing term papers. I thought the whole enterprise of collecting information was tedious and boring. I remember visiting the local college library to look for information for a term paper I was writing about Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was a struggle to find the five required references. I remember looking up books in the card catalog, then hunting them down on the shelves, and scouring each one for relevant information that I wrote down on index cards. Some books were missing, some were out of place. It took hours to gather enough information to begin even writing a paper.
Then there was the task of transforming these pieces of information into a coherent narrative, typed on an electric typewriter.
Boy do I feel old. But more to the point, it's ironic that I became a writer in the long run. It turns out that I love to do research, but only when I can get to the information I need as quickly as possible.… Read more
Last week the new "Baby Einstein" study came out suggesting that "educational" baby videos are ineffective teaching tools. The most memorable conclusion from one of the researchers: "I would rather babies watch American Idol than these videos."
Over the weekend I was invited to debate BabyFirst TV co-founder Sharon Rechter about the relative merits of these products. BabyFirst TV is a 24-hour cable channel that broadcasts "educational" shows aimed at infants and toddlers. Their programming includes the Brainy Baby video series, some of which were included in the recent study.
Unfortunately, a technical glitch meant I didn't get to participate in the discussion as planned, but preparing for the segment gave me a chance to examine the culture behind these products. Why are these videos so appealing to today's parents? As I thought about it over the weekend, and re-read Susan Gregory Thomas' new book Buy Buy Baby I came to realize that there is a perfect match between the marketing messages coming from companies like BabyFirst TV and Baby Einstein, and the culture and socialization of Gen X parents in particular. … Read more
Earlier this month, New York enacted an Air Passenger Bill of Rights. Among other things, it requires that airlines make minimal provisions for passengers stranded on the tarmac for more than three hours. If you've done any traveling with kids, you probably know how difficult it is to both pack light (a key strategy for successful travel generally) and to pack enough stuff so that if there's a delay, you can keep the little ones occupied. The New York law bounds the problem a little bit: if your longest leg is 6 hours, you can be relatively assured that your outbound leg from a New York airport won't add more than 3 hours to that. But as the US Customs and Border Patrol SNAFU at LAX confirms, airport authorities don't seem to get particularly concerned about tarmac waits of 6, 8, or 10 hours, be they outbound or inbound. I think that when traveling with children, that's a bit much. What's a parent to do?… Read more