Sunday, November 23, 2008

ethnography study: is online time "good for kids?"

I have a Facebook account which I use now and again, and I find it very useful for keeping in touch with friends whom I may otherwise have lost contact with. It's true, if Facebook did not exist then I would have lost touch with some friends from High School, so why use this new tool as a method of communication with people I would otherwise have forgotten about? 

I suppose in a way it makes me happy to keep in touch with these people. After all, these friends from the past are tagged with many memories, some of which would have evaporated if it weren't for the occasional email from them to my Facebook homepage.

However my opinion of social networking sites is not all that of hope, happiness and reminiscence. children and teenagers are spending far too much time surfing the internet and socializing online through the likes of Facebook and MySpace. 

There are many dangers related to these past-times such as childhood obesity and the risk of meeting pedophiles disguising themselves as teenagers through the mask of the virtual world. In fact,  25% of 8-15 year olds in the UK admit to having "Facebook" friends; people they have not met in real life but have befriended through the social networking website.

However this morning I read how a study has shown that spending time on social networking sites is important for teen development. 

The report really counters my opinion and probably the stereotypical views of parents and teachers nationwide.

"They are learning the technological skills and literacy needed for the contemporary world," said Dr Mimi Ito, the reports author. 

"They are learning how to communicate online, craft a public identity, create a homepage, post links. All these things were regarded as sophisticated 10 years ago but young people today take them for granted."

The aim of the Digital Youth Project was to provide an ethnographical view of how children use social media to socialize, learn and relax. More than 800 teenagers took part in the study.

Dr Ito also says that the internet provides teenagers the opportunity to explore in their own creativity whilst providing a "hang-out" place for teenagers, rather than public places where some are perhaps likely to cause nuisance or even commit petty crimes.

This has made me realise that there are opposing advantages and disadvantages to online socializing. On one side we can argue that children are not getting out enough to exercise, for example, as they spend so much time in front of a computer screen; surfacing issues such as childhood obesity which then leads to health problems in later life. There is also the danger of children not always knowing who exactly they are talking to online. 

However the on the other side, the argument is more related to the younger generations ability to use technology and explore their creativity. 

As a designer interested in technology, it would make sense for me to now argue for the latter, however I am indecisive (for a change) and find myself swaying between both arguments. 

So here is a final thought: "Modern" learning has become very peer-based and networked, so with more teenagers now possessing technical abilities partnered with creative thinking, will this path the way for a new breed of designer?

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