digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

Giving Digital Natives Their Due

May 01, 2009 _ 10:48 / Caitlin McNally / comments (1)

Recently, a college-age viewer in Chicago sent this comment to the Digital Nation team, about our current project and our previous film for FRONTLINE, Growing Up Online:

I watched "Growing Up Online" and was greatly annoyed by how 'my generation' (how I hate using that phrase. Soooo 1968) was portrayed. I think we deserve more credit for personal responsibility and composure than we received in that program, and I would offer up the brilliant, dedicated and disciplined students I attend classes here with as a counterexample. It's best not to base your portrayal of an entire demographic cohort on statistical outliers, and the students profiled in your previous piece (disordered, exhibitionist, unstable and tragic) in no way resembled what I saw around me in high school and continue to see at College. I am aware of your stated plans to portray digital innovation in a balanced manner, showing both the good and the bad, and I applaud this outlook. However, your previous track record with Merchants of Cool and The Persuaders (in which we were helpless before the power of Madison Avenue) and Growing Up Online leaves me no confidence that you will follow through with this plan. I beg you not to portray 'digital natives' as hackneyed caricatures of themselves once again. I have always admired Frontline for its integrity, something most media outlets these days lack, but I see alarmism and a pathetic fear of the new creeping into even this program. I know Mr. Rushkoff's agenda well, but I hold out hope that perhaps the rest of the production staff will be able to provide the kind of objective journalism that typically characterizes this series.

It's a critique that we thought warranted a response. In Growing Up Online, we found characters with profound and emotional stories, and we thought these stories illustrated the sorts of tensions that many families are wrestling with to a variety of degrees over the Internet and its role in the lives of teenagers. Of course, there are many stories out there that highlight the ways in which young people are embracing the promise and potential of the Internet and digital media in powerful ways. We felt at the time, however, that a sober conversation about adolescents' online lives was eclipsed by anxiety about predation by strangers. After talking to dozens of experts and reviewing as many studies as possible, we discovered that statistics showed kids posing a greater danger to themselves and each other online than any outside threat. We saw a real need to shift the conversation and explore the nuances of the potent cocktail of adolescence and the digital world, and that's what we aimed to do in Growing Up Online.

The idea for Digital Nation was born partly due to the response to Growing Up Online: we sensed we had hit a nerve with the topic, and we wanted to expand further. With Digital Nation, we hope to tackle not just the conversation around families' dinner tables, but the debates taking place in schools, in workplaces, in military platoons, in labs and in universities as well as in our homes. We hope to do no less than investigate how digital technology is changing what we know about ourselves. We're very aware of the seductive tendency to paint questions about the Internet and digital media with a black and white brush, to fall into an easy polarity. It often sounds something like this: is all this information surrounding us making us dumber or smarter? Is it good or bad? Are we doomed, or are we headed to the promised land? Are we all going to hell in a hand basket? And what about the kids?

Trust us, we wrestle with these questions all the time in our own meetings and discussions. We, too, have already met dozens of young people who are employing digital tools to great ends -- often guiding older generations through what resembles the acquisition of a new language -- and we're very much looking forward to including these examples in our exploration. But we're also aware of some of the concerns out there: reflections on how and where technology exacerbates some of our darker instincts as well as our brighter ones. Ultimately, we're looking for the places where technology intersects with the most profound and fundamental parts of our lives, from the everyday to, in some cases, the extraordinary. In that space -- admittedly a large and slippery one -- is where we hope to extend the conversation from the territory we've already covered.

Our intention is to instigate dialogue with our audience, about the footage that we're collecting and the stories that we're pursuing as we go. We're seeking your advice and comments, and we welcome more thoughts -- positive or critical -- about what we're doing and the directions we're taking. You can see it all here. We're honing the questions we want to ask everyday, but we don't yet have answers, and we may never have any. The point is the journey, and we invite more comments like these that keep us on our toes along the way.

-- Digital Nation


Comments

I love growing up online.

Anonymous / September 20, 2009 _ 10:55

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posted February 2, 2010

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