Growing up online

Watched the Frontline program, “Growing up online: Just how radically is the Internet transforming the experience of childhood.”

It gives you first-hand look at the online life of high school kids on social networking sites such as MySpace, and the generation gap its created with parents and teachers.

Even one of the Frontline researchers, still in her 20s, experienced that gap:

More than once, I’d be trying to follow up with a kid and I would discover pretty quickly that the only way I could elicit a response was through a text message or social networking site.

I would place call after call, or send e-mail after e-mail — nothing. But with a text, or a message on Facebook, a response would ping back within minutes.

This phenomenon was a surprise; it made me feel old-fashioned — and old. I thought my experience would resemble that of the kids more than their parents, as I’m not a parent yet and certainly still empathize with being someone’s child.

The majority of teenagers we talked to expressed good-natured exasperation that their parents “didn’t know how to work a computer” or barely understood text messaging.

I was confident that because I’m completely comfortable using a computer, e-mail and a cell phone, I’d relate pretty quickly to how the kids we met communicate online. This was not the case.

Writing an e-mail for a lot of the kids we talked to is equivalent to sitting down and hand-writing a letter for me. They described e-mail as a slow, archaic way to keep in touch with your aunt halfway across the country or apply for a summer internship.

Even the most articulate kids who aced all their English classes could switch effortlessly into IM or text-speak; quick, pithy, shorthand Internet language was second nature to almost all the kids we met.

They’re bilingual, and they intuitively understand an entire culture generated by the Internet, with customs and vocabulary that we had to learn step-by-step.

Watch the Frontline program, “Growing up online.”

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