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How you think the Internet has affected child rearing, what it means to be a parent?
Jenkins: The interesting thing is if you look across the 20th century, every generation of parents has faced some fundamental social, technological and cultural shifts, which almost antiquated the ways in which they were raised. Parents often say, "The kids understand the technology better than we do." The reality is almost every generation of this 20th century thought that way.
One of the challenges is that parents are facing challenges with their young people that they were not part of and they're not anything their parents taught them how to deal with. They don't have a language to talk to their kids about a lot of the issues they're facing online.
Have you thought about what a healthy amount of time is for a kid to be on the Internet at like age 6 versus 10 versus 15?
Jenkins: I'm not sure I want to give a number, that's not really what it's about, it's about making an assessment of what's the quality of experience kids are having. How it's contributing to their development, and how it relates to their own goals further along.
What do you think of this fitness trend with the Wii? Do you think that it might change childhood obesity problems in this country?
Jenkins: I think that it's one of the more healthy trends in the development of digital technology. I think it's too early to tell whether it will have a long-term impact on physical fitness but it certainly has some potential. Most parents have had the experience of seeing a kid quit early when they get frustrated with their homework but wanting to stay up late when they get frustrated with a game they were playing. So how do we get them as determined to think about knowledge and learning as they are about beating the level of a game? The games are powerful because they define roles and rules in such a way that they motivate us to try new things, to take risks.
Do you think that the game console will supplant the TV?
Jenkins: Well, statistically speaking, the game console for at least young men is already beginning to surpass television, in terms of the amount of time kids play. From an educational standpoint, I think it has a lot of advantages over television as well as some disadvantages. It won't get rid of Sesame Street or National Geographic documentaries anytime soon, but they're really rich ways of learning about the world. Kids can act on information rather than simply consuming it.
How do you think the YouTube presidential debates reflect the changing nature of the political process and how this generation thinks about politics?
Jenkins: I was very excited by the YouTube debate and I'm very frustrated that the Republicans seem not to be willing to participate in the same process. I think it's probably the most important innovation in the political process since the town hall debates were introduced in the 1990s.
In the traditional debate, the candidate speaks past the questioner in order to address simply the substance of the question. In the town hall debate, the person is physically there and so you begin to factor in the life experiences, who this person is, and that gives us a model of how the candidate relates to the public in a very different way. But the problem is that the voter is being pulled into an environment that's totally alien to them.
What the YouTube debate did is bring that much more fully under the control of the citizen. The citizen not just frames the issue, but embodies the issue in the ways they choose to construct their video. The language is much less highbrow and much more down to earth. There's a kind of irreverence to authority in the YouTube questions that I think forces the candidates to break out of their normal way of speaking. It showed us how they thought on their feet in a different way.
So we're seeing this movement where participatory culture merges into participatory democracy and young people are at the forefront of that. Young people are interested in this new language of talking about issues, because the language of politics has become stagnant over the last 20 or 30 years. It no longer seems to speak the same way that citizens think and talk.
What's interesting about, say, use of social networks is that it creates not just connections between the voters and the candidates, but connections among the voters. The voters themselves feel part of a community and this generation seems to perceive politics as a communal activity. I think the combination of the social networks and YouTube really do seem to point toward a new style of politics that's emerging really rapidly in this election cycle and it's one that is suited for this generation that is coming of age in the new media environment.
I wonder what the downsides are of the communal participatory skills that this generation is developing. How do these skills affect one-to-one relationships or attention span. With new skills comes loss of some kind?
Jenkins: Sure, and I think it's again about finding that balance. I see multitasking as an emerging skill, but if it comes at the expense of the ability to really focus attention on a problem and think it through, then it's a problem. I think the ability to collaborate and work in noncollective intelligence communities is a real skill, but if it comes at the expense of individual autonomy and the ability to make your own decisions then it's potentially a downside.
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