digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

Forum on Our Digital Future

April 14, 2009 _ 18:45 / Digital Nation Team / comments (1)

The discussion covered a range of issues raised in our FRONTLINE/World special about South Korea: The Most Wired Place on Earth, including Internet addiction and the rise of Korea's wired culture, as well as what it all means for us here in the U.S. We were joined by Howard Rheingold, long-time commentator on the digital world and author of the 2002 book Smart Mobs; Donald Kirk, a journalist who has covered South Korea for over 35 years, authoring numerous books and articles, and the current Korea correspondent of Christian Science Monitor; Dr. John M. Grohol, founder of the influential website Psych Central, the Internet's largest and oldest independent mental health social network, and a frequent writer on the topic of Internet addiction; and SK Gaming's Editor in Chief Lawrence 'Malystryx' Phillips, who answered questions about eSports and professional PC gaming. Thank you to all of the experts for your thoughtful responses.

We think the significance of this digital age is the speed at which it's moving. Do you think it will plateau for a while, or is there going to be this continuous exponential growth of technology, both in devices and programs as well as uses? And if it does continue to move at this rate, what's next?

Howard Rheingold: The immediate drivers of change are Moore's law, the global spread of manufacturing new devices (China in particular), and the adoption of mobile phones in particular by the bottom 1/4 of the world's economic strata. But there are three other important drivers of change worth considering:

1. Individual technologies combine to create hybrid technologies with powers and effects of their own: The PC was possible because of the maturing of display screen technology, originally from the television world, the evolution of digital computing, and the miniaturization of the key components of computers. Taken together, these technologies did not just create the equivalent of mainframe computers (centrally controlled, big, expensive, devoted to scientific calculations and business data processing), but created the PC as a new kind of computer that people who had never used computers began to use to do things that computers had never been used to do. Recently, we've seen the mobile phone, the Internet, and the personal computer combine into yet another hybrid. The iPhone, while not the most technically advanced device, has given the world an image of a hybrid that is not the telephone, PC, or Internet as we have known it. We'll continue to see these convergences and hybrids.

2. As the population of users of a new technology such as PCs or smartphones increases, a market for developers emerges, and the population of users begins to appropriate the devices for uses not intended by the designers/manufacturers (SMS is a good example, and so are the smart mob eruptions we've seen worldwide).

3. What Yochai Benkler calls "social production" is beginning to emerge as populations begin to learn how to use the means of production of cultural products (digital computers) and the means of distribution (networks) to create Wikipedia, Open Source software, emergent response to disaster, citizen journalism, and other forms of non-market production that weren't possible when the means of production and distribution were extremely limited.

4. Young people are a breeding ground for new practices, from SMS to MySpace and Facebook, laptops in the classroom, cyberbullying and Youbama (an election site that combined YouTube and Digg for college students to produce, distribute, and vote up the best political endorsements for Obama).

So I see continuing change. The disjunction between the speed of change in technology and ensuing practices and the rate of change of social institutions, from the press to government to education, is a significant critical uncertainty.

Digital Nation: How is the global recession impacting the professional gaming industry?

Lawrence "Malystryx" Phillips: The global recession is not having as much of an impact as many would think given that the games industry as a whole has remained intact, due to people looking for cheaper forms of entertainment.

The professional games industry specifically has seem several major companies face liquidation such as Games-Services who hosted the Electronic Sports World Cup - the second largest tournament of the year which had a $250,000 prize purse last year - as well as one of the largest multigaming teams Meet Your Makers.

However, this has been more down to the fact the companies were living in a dreamworld throwing in a lot of money but unable to really see a return on their investment. The financial crisis has simply forced eSports teams to trim down and think carefully about where they spend their money, and the same is true for the sponsors who invested in eSports such as AMD, who withdrew their support of the likes of mTw and SK Gaming. The economic crisis has helped to streamline the way in which eSports companies work which should be beneficial and not detrimental in the long term.

How can societies effectively integrate a digital world into the lives of our children while minimizing the other side of the "double edged sword" that comes with technology like phones, videogames, and such avenues of addiction?

Dr. John Grohol: It's a simple thing -- new generations learn to integrate such technologies on their own, just as we learned to integrate using the phone and not spending too much time watching TV on our own. Children and teens today think nothing of texting friends and keeping in touch on Facebook or myspace, while some adults still struggle with these kinds of things.

I think parents can help their children learn a proper balance by being a good role model (e.g., modeling the behavior they want their kids to follow), so put away texting while socializing or eating, and set limits on Internet time and such. Reasonable limits, though, taking into account that computers and cell phones are the new "telephone" and it's how kids today really keep up and in-touch with their friends

Howard Rheingold: A few days ago, I blogged something about the need for integrating participatory media literacies into education, and for parents to begin to learn how to talk to kids about their media practices before they get online or start using mobile phones:

A quote from that blog:

"Will our grandchildren grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them personally or professionally, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn to their benefit and that of everyone else? Or will they grow up knowing that the online world is a bewildering puzzle to which they have few clues, a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams? I have collected evidence over the past several decades that suggests the humanity or toxicity of next year's digital culture depends to a very large degree on what we know, learn, and teach each other about how to use the one billion Internet accounts and four billion mobile phones available today."

After more than twenty five years of participation, observation, and analysis, I've become convinced that the future tenor of online culture depends now on whether new literacies spread far enough, fast enough in the next few years. Laws, regulations, technical infrastructure changes, economic barriers now under construction have the power to recentralize and seize control of what grew from ARPANET to YouTube as a participatory and collaborative culture. Authoritarian control, whether it is by the state or private interests, is not inevitable - yet. The speed, scope, and spread of knowledge might be more critically important at this historic moment than microchips, initial public offerings, business models, 3G networks, Web 2.0 services, or fiberoptic cables. And don't swallow the myth of the digital native. Just because your teens Facebook, IM, and Youtube, don't assume they know the rhetoric of blogging, collective knowledge gathering techniques of taggers and social bookmarkers, collaborative norms of wiki work, how to tune and feed a Twitter network, the art of multimedia argumentation - and, by far most importantly, online crap detection.

To oversimplify, before getting online access, children ought to be educated about two skills:

1. How to get the answer to any question by knowing how to pose it to a search engine.
2. How to determine whether the answer you get is true.

It doesn't make sense to deal with the many other issues involved in life online without dealing with the issue of knowledge-finding and credibility. More than ever, young people need to combine basic information-finding skills with the more judgement-based skill of crap detection. And therein lies the main obstacle: While learning to assess information critically, even skeptically, is an essential skill online, few parents and teachers have the patience to encourage their children to question authority, especially their own authority.

When it comes to social issues such as bullying, stranger danger, addictive uses of media, not much progress is going to be made unless children are given both guidance and freedom to make moral judgements. We don't put armor on our kids before allowing them to walk the streets alone -- we teach them to look both ways before crossing the street. The oversimplifications and moral panics are not helping.

This task -- of helping parents and teachers to understand the particular challenges of educating young people for a world of search engines, online social networks, and mobile media -- is not overwhelmingly complex. It's too bad that this kind of education is a low priority, while the moral panic that drives dangerous censorship, ineffective legislation, and frightens parents away from introducing their children to media practices that will be important to their lives in this century is overwhelmingly popular.

Is it really correct to think of "internet addiction", in the same sense that we refer to "drug addiction"?

Dr. John Grohol: No, I think that the two are very different concepts. We can talk about people using the Internet much in the way as doing anything compulsive -- such as gambling -- but I don't think it's a fair comparison to drugs, which have a demonstrated neurochemical reaction within our brains.

Can you say if there is any evidence of adult attention deficit disorder being caused by internet use? if so what is the best way to combat it or avoid it?

Dr. John Grohol: I think you see Internet tools like Twitter actually taking advantage of our increasingly attention-deficit driven society. So rather than the Internet causing ADHD, I'd argue it's the other way around. As a society, we're becoming driven to believe we need to always be doing 10 things at once to keep up, whether it's texting while we're out with friends, or surfing the Web, or using Twitter, these are all just symptoms, I believe, of a larger societal problem or change of focus.

Is education or even habitual routines really so dependent on technology or is it really our psychological barrier that causes us to pass on blame? I personally think it's really just a matter of discipline and societal approach that creates issues or lack thereof.

Dr. John Grohol: I think our instinct is to find a reason or a cause for problem behaviors in our lives or in the lives of others we care about. Think about anytime there's a tragedy in the news. The most immediate question is, "Why? How could this happen?" with the underlying assumption that determining why could prevent future tragedies. What we miss with these simple cause-and-effect explanations, however, is the immense complexity of human behavior. We don't just surf the Internet because it's a new technology, but rather because it's reinforcing socialization with others. And many of us find that connecting with others -- our friends, our family, etc. -- to be a very reinforcing, rewarding and positive activity!

Howard Rheingold: I didn't invent the analysis that public education was created in order to turn agricultural workers into industrial workers and managers -- sit in chairs in rows, move when the bell rings, receive and memorize facts that are delivered by experts. So public education is at the same time a progressive means of ensuring that democratic societies produce effective citizens, a means of feeding properly socialized workers to industry, a means of social control that enculturates young people to the rules and norms of society. Henry Ford wanted better assembly line workers; John Dewey wanted more thoughtful citizens.

During the 20th century, public education became institutionalized and politicized. And training citizens and workers for the 20th century has become increasingly problematic in the 21st century. Citizens need to know how to separate the good information online today from the misinformation and disinformation. They need to know how to use blogs to advocate, wikis to collaborate, Twitter to organize collective action. None of this fits with the 20th century curriculum, and the necessary pedagogy based on student inquiry and collaboration (with teacher guidance) is very different from the accepted pedagogy of delivery of a body of knowledge by expert teachers to passive students who record and regurgitate facts. The educational needs of citizens and workers have become quite different from the educational goals and methods of instituionalized education.

The matter is not made any better by sensational journalism that leaves out nuance, sells papers or gains viewers by fueling moral panics, and a lack of communication of the meaning of the empirical studies we do have on youth behavior, educational technologies and methods, and institutional reform.

Digital Nation: The broadcast last night looked at the professional gaming scene in South Korea. Is this the epicenter of eSports? How does it compare to the rest of the world?

Lawrence "Malystryx" Phillips: South Korea is mostly definately the birthplace of eSports, due to the cultural and economic situation in its infancy it has been nurtured in a positive way rather than the usual negative stigma esports receives in other countries around the world. This is probably the biggest difference when compared to the rest of the world, the level of acceptance of gaming as a sport. Germany and more recently China are other countries where pro gaming is developing strongly but the players remain only stars, compared to Korea where the players are treated as superstars, comparable to movie stars in the attention they receive.

However, it still remains a self-sufficient eSports bubble. There are televised leagues but they mostly cover only Korean players, although there have been international events such as E-Stars which will take place this year as well. So I would certainly say it is the point of origin of eSports but I would say eSports as a whole has three poles, South Korea, China and Europe (in particular Germany).

Digital Nation: In the program that aired last night, we talked about the "high tech revolution" that Korea had 10 years ago and how that has led to both advancements and problems in their society today. Can you give us a little background on the Internet revolution in Korea and how that came about?

Donald Kirk: Koreans have joined in the internet revolution perhaps more enthusiastically than the people of any other country. The internet spread from work and home to thousands of PC rooms -- "PC Bang" -- that attract people at a very young age, almost as soon as they go to school, it seems. That obviously presents a tremendous social problem as kids become downright addicted to the internet. How Korea got so wired relates to the high level of math, technical and engineering skills that enabled major companies to spread internet and cellphone usage to all corners of the society, to produce computers, cell phones and other gizmos and gadgets of the electronic age quite inexpensively, for domestic consumption as well as export. So it's a tribute to the technical expertise and hard study habits of Koreans that the country is so densely wired. But the downside also is that Koreans have a way of overdoing it, just as they sometimes overdo other fads and trends in a kind of mass hysteria or movement to try to keep up with one another in a densely populated environment in which people feel an overwhelming need to communicate, to stay connected.

Digital Nation: How is the global recession impacting the professional gaming industry?

Lawrence "Malystryx" Phillips: The global recession is not having as much of an impact as many would think given that the games industry as a whole has remained intact, due to people looking for cheaper forms of entertainment.

The professional games industry specifically has seem several major companies face liquidation such as Games-Services who hosted the Electronic Sports World Cup - the second largest tournament of the year which had a $250,000 prize purse last year - as well as one of the largest multigaming teams Meet Your Makers.

However, this has been more down to the fact the companies were living in a dreamworld throwing in a lot of money but unable to really see a return on their investment. The financial crisis has simply forced eSports teams to trim down and think carefully about where they spend their money, and the same is true for the sponsors who invested in eSports such as AMD, who withdrew their support of the likes of mTw and SK Gaming. The economic crisis has helped to streamline the way in which eSports companies work which should be beneficial and not detrimental in the long term.

Although we all need some type of digital enhancement in our lives, and the digital age will only increase to newer better improved technologies in the future, as generations grow with the digital world will manual dexterity soon be extinct? Good or Bad? What do you think?

Howard Rheingold: Manual dexterity is in little danger of going extinct as long as young people text each other with their hands under their desks or under their pockets. We have a great many real issues to worry about with the increasing use of always-on, always at-hand media, but I don't think the loss of manual dexterity is high on that list. The loss of quiet private time for contemplation, idle thought, meditation, for example, as we use our iPods, Gameboys, smartphones to fill the empty periods while we walk down the street, ride the train or bus, wait in line, for example. We might not lose manual dexterity, but are we in danger of losing the pleasure of being alone with our thoughts, unmediated, unconnected, unentertained by YouTube, podcast, MP3, or SMS?

Dr. John Grohol: I think that all societies evolve over time to reward and reinforce the skills that society values. So while it was valuable in the 18th century to know how to load and fire a musket, I dare say few people today could do so at all. Our society today is starting to value more and more the information technologies that we've created, and there is of course an entire industry evolving that use and find new uses for these technologies. I think our skills with regards to manual dexterity are simply changing, not going away altogether. So instead of perhaps have so many muscles for manual labor, we might be far more adept at keypads, keyboards, and similar input devices.

Digital Nation: What are the pros and cons of considering Internet addiction an official disorder?

Dr. John Grohol: The pros is that people readily seem to self-identify with this as a disorder and something that can become a problem in some people's lives. This may encourage some people to more readily seek out help for the problem than they otherwise might do.

The cons are that we go further down the dangerous road of labeling any sort of deviant behavior a "disorder" or dysfunctional based upon soft, ever-changing criteria. There is no agreed-upon set of criteria for this disorder, for instance, and the research is all over the place as to what should constitute the criteria. And my argument has always been, where do we stop? Why single out the Internet, when people are just as "addicted" in their lives to TV, video games, reading a book, and talking with friends or shopping. There's no rationale or logical reason we should single out the Internet, except that it makes for an easy, large scapegoat and target.

Mr. Rheingold, There are significant sections of the country, for example some 30 communities in Western Massachusetts, where broadband internet access is not available (not even DSL). Do you think that the Obama administration will indeed, as they have said, be able to correct this situation?

Howard Rheingold: We would not have basic voice telephone access in rural areas if the federal government did not require ATT, in exchange for their monopoly on voice communication, to cross-subsidize rural telephony (use their profits from urban phone connections to pay for the initial costs of installing rural lines). In fact, we would not have the Internet if the federal government had not required ATT to drop their prohibition of attaching non-ATT equipment (e.g., modems) to their network. We would not have Moore's law, PCs, mobile phones if the federal government had not required Bell Labs to open licensing access to their transistor technology (which enabled one of the inventors, William Shockley, to start one of the earliest Silicon Valley companies). And of course, without DARPA we wouldn't have personal computers or the Internet. So, yes, I believe the federal government does play a role. This is the very opposite of socialism. By strongly supporting universal access to infrastructure, the US government made Microsoft and Google possible. If our citizens are to be educated and competitive in the global economy, broadband infrastructure is a cost-effective requirement. If the government can help set up pre-competitive infrastructure -- like universal broadband -- the private sector will respons by creating new technologies, industries, and jobs.

Due to a great deal of public relations disinformation by incumbents and deliberate political distortion of the historical role of the US federal government in the establishment of important technological industries, too many people believe that the market and private sector can handle everything and that federal support is creeping socialism. If that had been the case, the US would not have gone to the moon, we would not be using the Internet or computers to have this discussion.

My question is directed at Dr. Grohol. Do you feel that some people play video games too much? If so, do you think the mental health profession is adequately trained to assist those who are problem gamers?

Dr. John Grohol: I think mental health professionals like psychologists already have the skills in their toolkits to help people with any of these kinds of compulsive behaviors, whether it be "Internet addiction" or playing video games too much or taking any activity in their life to an unhealthy extreme. Therapists use cognitive behavioral techniques in therapy to help a person identify the problematic behavior, and taper it off slowly over time, replacing it with different activities that are also just as rewarding and enjoyable to the person.

As a journalist myself, I'm interested to hear your opinion about what technology (more specifically the Internet) is doing for journalism. Good? Bad? Both? And in your professional opinion, as someone (me) who's about to enter the "print" market, what do you suggest we do when it comes to looking for work in the digitized age of media?

Donald Kirk: The Korean media is undoubtedly suffering from competition from the web but not so precipitously or dramatically as the American media. So far all the major papers seem to be surviving -- though some of the second and third-tier papers are said to be in trouble. The internet, though, has had a tremendous impact on spreading the news. One well known website, OhMyNews, is increasingly popular -- has English-language material as well. Suggest you take a look. The internet is quite influential in political campaigns with websites pillorying and praising candidates, parties and causes. Older Koreans are concerned about the potential impact of declining reliance on newspapers among young people. The government is proposing ordering papers for schools so kids will get in the habit of reading them and not just their websites. Of course, the question will then arise, what papers and what interests and trends do they represent -- all of which will provoke endless controversy. In sum: papers here are surviving but websites as the medium for news are powerful forces and may grow more powerful.

I don't agree with the studies that indicate there is no proof of internet addiction. The studies cited in the "IA Myth: 2009 Update" was done on college students. These were students who had the skills to make it through HS and move onto college. Many kids can't or don't cope with that at all. What about all the students that did not go on to college or have dropped out of school (over 51% in this town!) such as mine children (now 18-21yrs old). Dr. Grohol suggests that this is socializing. Don't drug users and bar patrons socialize when they are employing their habit. I'm not saying all people are drug or alcohol "addicts', but that is the environment that gets people into that problem area.

As with the mother in your show, I have personally observed online gaming become a social/anti-social behavior in that my children may have many friends online, but no "real" friends that they can communicate with and relate to in the real world. They have neglected their nutrition, have random night/day sleep patterns due to different friends in different parts of the world which has affected their physical and mental health which has resulted in a lack of interest nature, anything outside the house, schooling, a job or even dating.

I have been divorced, so I could not control this environment for the past 6 years and believe depression may play a part in this as I believe may be the case with the mother/child in your Frontline feature as well. However, I can tell you that the parent is a major initiation of the problem by enabling the environment for the problem to develop, exist and manifest itself into real life problems. Children will do what they want without structure put upon them.

Being an IC industry professional for 26 years, I showed my children many uses for a computer and the internet as tools when I had brought them to work as well as for school aids and other learning aids at home. However, they have only been interested in using a computer for playing games!

I have compared computer games to a drug and drug addiction for many years - which moves into adult life. I am convinced it is addictive. In this respect, the internet is irrelevant. However, the internet enables the game to become much more of a massive worldwide entity with a much more seductive payoff.

I sure don't need a Psy.D. in psychology to understand that.

Dr. John Grohol: Do people have problems with certain things taking over their life? Absolutely. Do we need new labels to describe these problems and focus on this particular modality -- the Internet -- as something unique? Absolutely not. It's not. Before the Internet, it was video games. Before video games, it was the dangers of the television. We as a society have a long history of demonizing new technologies, because they are scary for some and used in harmful ways by others. It takes us humans awhile to learn to integrate the new technology into our daily lives and move from being mesmerized by it, to learning to use it in a positive, pro-social manner.

There's been a lot of research on this phenomenon, believe me, and most of it is contradictory or flawed. There's very little we've learned in the past decade that illustrates this is somehow a unique or distinct phenomenon.

Digital Nation: There have been some stories in the news lately regarding free speech on the Internet in South Korea. A blogger could face 18 months in prison and Google has challenged Korea's "real name verification system". What is the atmosphere like in South Korea regarding these issues?

Donald Kirk: The case of Minerva, the blogger, has become a real test of freedom of speech. He gained fame after foreseeing the collapse of Lehman Brothers and then spread dire predictions about the economy and the government's policies. The government says Minerva' s messages wound up costing the economy about $2 billion while the global economy went into a tailspin. Many dispute that claim, saying the Korean economy suffered as did many others in the overall economic downturn. Minerva could conceivably get a significant jail term. In fact, he's already in jail since Korean judges do not give bail so routinely as in the U.S. Google's challenge also presents an issue -- Korea adopted a real-name ID system originally to keep people from harboring secret bank accounts that were often used for illicit funds, payoffs and the like. Koreans do enjoy a high degree of freedom, as evidenced in print and on-line but clearly the Minerva and Google cases, though very different, show the sensitivities of authorities and the danger of restraints that threaten the hard-won freedoms gained during the "democracy movement" of the past generation.

Comment to Dr. Grohol answer in comparing game addiction to chemical dependencies. There are two studies that have shown that their are distinct neurochemical processes that take place, mainly in our reward system when playing video games. One,was done by the late Dr. Sabine Grusser at Charite University, Berlin Germany and the other was done by the Hammersmith Hospital in London, UK. Can you comment?

Dr. John Grohol: Indeed, there are specific neurochemical changes in our brains whenever we do *any* activity in life. Read an enjoyable book? Your brain rewards you with endorphins, just like when you play an enjoyable video game. The point is that none of these processes are unique to video gaming or using the Internet. They are common neurological processes that occur in our lives doing any a number of rewarding, pleasurable activities.

I continue to be surprised at the absence of public discussion of the effect of email and other electronic means of communication on relationships between people, such as the greater connectedness of people who used to drift apart (classmates, old friends, etc.), plus examples such as soldiers in combat zones being able to send messages daily to their families. It is the flip side of the alienation created also by the internet in people who are addicted to its use. Can you comment?

Howard Rheingold: We need more specific and nuanced discussion when it comes to making judgements about whether a particular person's use of media is beneficial or destructive. I spend a great deal of my time online, following and bookmarking links, participating in half a dozen virtual communities, Twittering, videoblogging, skyping -- much of it to no discernible purpose other than satisfying my curiousity. Is this bad for me? Or is it the reason why you asked me to comment?

In 1996 -- 1996! -- I wrote a syndicated column about this issue:

"For my son Blaine, who uses a wheelchair, the Internet is a very real and important way to connect with the world. It is probably his most complete and equal connection, a means to giving him real power in the universe.

The net can be an essentially barrier-free place for someone accustomed to encountering one obstacle after another in the regular world," Marie Deatherage recently e-mailed me. We've been corresponding. I believe that knowing a little about Marie and Blaine might help us all make more intelligent decisions about the Internet.

Censors in Congress paint cyberspace as a hall of horrors that threatens to destroy our youth, and frame hideously unconstitutional censorship laws based on scare stories. Technology critics dismiss the idea that computer-mediated communications might be a lifeline to some. Unfortunately, this is the only side of the Internet story that most of the world ever gets through the mass media.

But Blaine doesn't use the Net to find cyberporn. He uses it to make human contact.

Consider the people who can't participate in the kind of social life most people consider normal, because of disability or illness or age, but who find not just resources, but friends online. Meet Blaine Deatherage-Newsom. Fifteen years old, when I first met him online. I get a couple of e-mail requests from high-school or college students every week. Blaine's message stood out from the rest:

"Hello, I hope you can help me. My name is Blaine and I am doing a project for my biology class. If we had the technology to eliminate disabilities from the population, would that be a good public policy to do so? What are the Pros? What are the Cons? Why do you feel the way you do?

"I should tell you that I have spina bifida and hydrocephalus so I have my own feelings and answers to these questions, but I want to know yours."

I repliedvia e-mail and remarked on what a serious and articulate person he seemed to be. A few weeks later, I received his report. Blaine received more than ninety replies from all over the world. He quoted them in his report, revealing a wide spectrum of opinion. And I learned a bit more about Blaine's motives in asking the question:

"I went to Oregon Museum of Science and Industry several years ago and saw an exhibit that described a child born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Visitors to the exhibit were asked to vote on whether the child should live or die. I voted that the child should live, but when I voted, the child was losing by quite a few votes. When these things happen, I get worried. I wonder if people are saying that they think the world would be a better place without me."

So he used the Net to do the survey.

"The Internet opens the world to me and to a lot of other people too."

The response to his project had a profound effect on Blaine:

"It made me feel like I have friends, or at least people who care about me, all over the country, and even the world. Just think how amazing it is that a boy who is fifteen and in a wheelchair because he is paralyzed from the armpits down got to ask a question that ninety people from all over the world took the time to answer. The answers were so interesting and diverse and gave me things to think about that I would never have thought of before. The Internet opens the world to me and to a lot of other people too."

Sending e-mail surveys is not Blaine's only use of the Net. Far from it. He and his mother have made a deep and systematic exploration of a world to them that represents freedom and knowledge and friendship.

Next , you'll meet Blaine's equally remarkable mom, Marie, and learn about their research into Net resources for the disabled.Marie suggests the Disability Solutions Page that is beginning to develop a resource that "features bulletin boards, information souces, links, and a multi-user dimension that enables participants to simultaneously converse and collaborate on disability issues."

"Blaine has played chess on the net with people who still have no idea he is sixteen, the size of a ten year old, in a wheelchair, and unconsciously rolls his head ,"

Marie Deatherage, mother of Blaine Deatherage-Newsom, recently wrote me. Blaine and his mother tell their stories most eloquently themselves. For those who think cyberspace is a scary place, Marie has something important to say.

"The first time we logged on was a revelation. We went right to the Usenet newsgroups. Blaine chose a chess group and started reading posts. Someone had asked a completely obscure chess trivia question. Blaine knew the answer and made it his first Usenet entry. The most wonderful part of this interchange was Blaine's ability to fully and equally participate in an activity in a way that his disability was not a handicap. If it had been verbal communication, the other people would have had a very difficult time understanding Blaine's speech. If they had met face to face, people might have taken one look at Blaine, and through prejudice, decided that someone in Blaine's circumstance would have nothing to contribute. But on the net, Blaine was judged strictly by the content of his contribution. I could see that he felt so powerful, so competent."

"I remember tears forming in my eyes while watching this. So often I have watched him left out, overlooked, or looked on as an aberration. We both felt a strong sense of community among the group. Blaine and the others shared questions and answers and intrests, and they looked to one another as experts, as resources, as having something to contribute. Maybe most people feel they are viewed this way in their everyday world. Blaine usually does NOT get viewed this way unless people somehow get to know him well. People who don't know him so often judge him on the basis of what they see, and never even get as far as looking at the content of his contributions."

Marie has something to say to other mothers who might be frightened by all the scare stories about cyberspace in the media:

"I just don't agree that the Internet is a scary place. While I find some of the content objectionable and even repulsive, even that has provided opportunities for learning life lessons. We discussed what this material might tell us about the people who were doing it. I remember when we found a hate group and read through the postings. We were both shocked, and I'm not sure Blaine had ever imagined that anyone would believe or say some of those things. I think he's better off knowing that they exist. Do I wish the world didn't have any bigots and hatemongers? Of course. But given that these people exist, do I want my child to grow up without knowing they are among us? I don't think so."

There are hundreds, thousands of stories like Marie's and Blaine's. I believe that for every person for whom the Internet turns out to be a truly scary place, there are ten for whom it is a lifeline.

South Korea is indeed one of the most wired places in the world, but it's also a 'closed' online world, with the "Walled Garden" approach seen in Cyworld et al. making it extremely national in its scope. Add to this fairly low level of English proficiency, and the most wired place on earth is still wired to South Korea first and foremost, and to a much smaller degree to the rest of the world. This is seen in gaming habits, closed social networks that require the Korean equivalent of SSN to join and so on.

The South Korean example is not that extreme either. In the rest of the world online communites are 'fairly' local as well, with language still being an important barrier, cultural differences another one. There are those who engage in global online interaction, but I would argue it's limited to a low number of English-speaking, mostly IT-interested individuals.

Is it correct to speak of a global online community, and do you believe we will move towards greater global interaction or remain in national/regional clusters?

Donald Kirk: The questioner clearly has taken a serious look at what's going on here. There is no doubt that Korea in many ways is socially and linguistically isolated from much of the rest of the world. Certainly the on-line mania that we're discussing here manifests itself most of the time in Korean as the lingua franca. Agreed.

That said, however, there is also no doubt that the internet opens Korea to the outside world as never before. More and more Koreans are studying English. The government is intensely pressing English-language study in schools. Signs on buses and trains are in English and Koreans. English, of course, is required on the secondary level, though many people can't speak it at all after going through lessons from teachers who themselves aren't good at English. But as the knowledgeable questioner would be well aware, hundreds of "hagwon" teach English, and foreigners often make considerable amounts of money in one-on-one tutoring of the offspring of the well-to-do.

So my answer to the last question, or actually two questions, would be yes and yes. There is a global on-line community, and Koreans will move closer toward a global community. (The use of the term "we" in the question suggests the questioner is Korean -- one who obviously knows English well and also is highly sensitive to the problem of insularity of Korean society, wired though it may be.)

Digital Nation: The pace of change in technology is increasing exponentially. What sorts of ethical dilemmas do you imagine will present themselves as technology, such as digital implants, increasingly gets integrated with biology?

Dr. John Grohol: Parents will probably face such decisions sooner than most, with an option to implant the equivalent of a digital RFID chip to track their children's whereabouts as they go off to school or hang out at a friend's house. At what point does an individual's privacy begin, even if they are "only" a teenager? That is a question that parents will have to answer in ways they never would've imagined a decade ago.

You may also see such technology in the form of digital monitoring of your bodily signs, such as your pulse and blood pressure. Perhaps future versions will even be able to monitor, in real time, glucose and cholesterol levels and digitally send that information over to your doctor's office for constant monitoring and alerts. But what happens if your insurance company wants access to that information, or your employer? They may start mandating healthier food choices and behaviors most people would be against, because we want to feel we are in control of our own lives and free from invasive snooping.

These are just two ready examples of how technology will likely soon become more integrated within our bodies. The GPS chip in your cell phone can already be used to track you. How long before such chips make it into our bodies themselves?

Digital Nation: Based on your experience in South Korea, what lessons can the U.S. learn from Korea's experience with investing in information technologies and ubiquitous broadband?

Donald Kirk: The Korean and American systems are very different. The geographical size of the U.S. may be one reason the U.S. has lagged behind in broadband connections -- though the U.S. has been catching up in the past few years. Also, the U.S. government does not support advances in technology as does the Korean government through, for instance, the high-tech complex in Taejeon. At the same time, brilliant American entrepreneurs have innovated and created hardware and software, systems and devices, far beyond the imaginations of competitors whose brilliance often lies in the power to imitate, not innovate. Korea also has shielded and protected its industry from foreign competition -- a charge that Koreans might deny or at least say is exaggerated. Overall, the society and the systems are so different, I'm not sure the U.S. would want to follow the Korean example in specific details. Still, the U.S. should share the Korean goal of bringing the internet to every school and broadband access to as many homes as possible.

One footnote: Korea is far, far ahead of the U.S. in PC Bang -- internet centers where it's possible to communicate on line as well as play video games. There are almost no PC Bang, or PC rooms, in the U.S. -- or at least PC rooms where it's possible to remain on line for as low as one or two dollars an hour. (On the other hand, you don't find public libraries in Korea, as you do in the U.S., where it's possible to go on line free of charge.)

Digital Nation: We've received a couple questions about using technology in education in the U.S. How has Korea integrated technology with their schools and what can the United States learn from their approach?

Donald Kirk: Koreans are among the global leaders in math and science -- all of which reflects long after-school study discipline as well as stringent standards in education. Korean schools are aggressively integrating on-line teaching and technology in schools and, on average, exceed American schools in that respect. That's "on average." Clearly some American schools, in top and above-average systems, also do very well when it comes to technology. The basic difference is discipline and dedication. How you compel young Koreans to study so hard, and why Americans often do not, relates to societal and cultural differences that go beyond specific lessons in approach. (Some argue, incidentally, that the Korean approach may discourage creativity and is not always worthy of emulation.)

Two questions: Can you address the strategies that teachers might use to make public education/school relevant in this environment?

How can state and federal government provide adequate support for educational technology when they are already cutting important programs like physical education and the arts?

Howard Rheingold: I didn't invent this, but I think Neil Postman's "Teaching as a Subversive Activity" really nailed the essence of what pedagogy needs to address, given the changed environment we live in (i.e., the Web, mobile devices): asking questions is more important than knowing answers. This doesn't mean doing away with teaching about DNA and calculus and other knowledge that requires knowing answers. It does mean moving more and more classroom time into student-generated inquiry -- start by encouraging them to ask questions about their world, about the texts, about the issues raised by the curriculum, and then guide them to learning how to seek their own answers, using texts and tools available.

Digital Nation: Can you gauge the popularity of eSports right now in Europe and compare it to the United States and elsewhere? What will it take for them to grow in popularity?

Lawrence "Malystryx" Phillips: For eSports to grow in the USA it needs to continue to push American teams out into the international scene. The US has had some really strong Quake stars but the with the Quake scene dorment at the moment while it awaits to see if QuakeLive can carry the torch, there are no American players really challenging for the top places in the top eSports titles.

Team 3D, an American team actually won the most prestigious competition of the year, World Cyber Games in 2004, and Jonathon "Fatal1ty" is long since retired from competitive play, America needs some new stars to take on the world to increase the popularity of eSports in the US.

For this to happen it needs the big gaming teams to go out on a limb and send their players to bootcamps across the seas and send their players to international tournaments. Foreign players and teams are not going to jump at the opportunity to train/play against an American team over a sluggish internet connection, so the US players really need support to get out there and be able to train with the best, otherwise they will always be complacent. With more US players and teams competing, it will generate interest, no-one wants to watch their country get beat.

Digital Nation: "Internet addiction" certainly carries a stigma, whether it's an official disorder or not. How can parents approach a situation where they fear their children are playing video games too much or spending too much time on the Internet? Is it possible to address the problem without going into the realm of an "official" disorder?

Dr. John Grohol: Absolutely, no need to get into the labeling issue to still address problem behavior in your children.

Parents should treat such behavior like any behavior they want to limit or extinguish. Depending upon the child's age and the extent of the problem, the intervention will be different. For younger children, it should be treated just like any entertainment options (like TV), with limits being placed on its use. Abuse of the limits should result in warnings, then appropriate punishment (such as taking away future Internet time). But positive behavior should also be rewarded, so kids learn that it's all about using the resource in healthy moderation.

For older children, there needs to be more give and take as to what's allowed, because they're young adults and are going to be testing their limits and feeling out what their own needs are. You should try and respect that to some degree, while still feeling comfortable with setting some upper limits (since they are still living in your home). So while a young child may be limited to no more than an hour a day on the Internet (at child-friendly sites, of course), a teen might have a limit of 2 or 3 hours a day on the Internet (which can be technically readily enforced at your Internet router).

You should also talk to your children about why the limits are in place -- that too much of any one thing can be a potentially negative influence in their life. As their parent, it's your responsibility to watch out for them, even when they may not see the dangers. For younger children, a simpler explanation is sufficient. For teens, you can get into the whole discussion about "all things in moderation," and why the Internet should be a part of a balanced life.

Using technical solutions to enforce the limits is also handy, because it takes the policing out of your hands. Most home Internet routers allow for setting limits on certain computers connected to the router, including time online for a day. If not, you can also find such programs available to purchase to install on each computer individually. Remember to set a strong password not easily guessable by your teen.

To what extent does all of this force us to throw out many of our suppositions about how we interact? Are we seeing the "rules" about how we communicate and learn being rewritten on the fly?

Dr. John Grohol: Indeed, I think that as new technology is introduced into society, it almost always changes the very fabric of society. Automobiles. Telephones. Radio. Television. You can see how the introduction of each led to significant and fundamental changes in how people and families interacted with one another and society as a whole. Old rules will no longer apply and I suspect someday someone will look at the time when people weren't texting or twittering while talking with others as a hopelessly slow and outdated mode of interacting. ("You used to talk to just one person at a time? Why would you do that??")

Such changes are always easiest on the young, who already take such readily available technology and always-available Internet for granted and a given. For others, it'll take some getting used to and there will be the inevitable conflicts as the two meet and try and interact with two different expectations and sets of rules.

But you can't stop progress, and for better or worse, such technology drives progress in our society today. It will inevitably change the rules.


Very nice site!

Pharme899 / November 19, 2009 _ 19:41


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posted February 2, 2010

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