digital nation - life on the virtual frontier


Digital Nation

Rachel Dretzin

Douglas Rushkoff
Rachel Dretzin

Caitlin McNally
R.A. Fedde

Douglas Rushkoff &
Rachel Dretzin

Rachel Dretzin

ANNOUNCER: In 2007, FRONTLINE broadcast a film called Growing Up on Line.

GREG BUKATA: You need to have the Internet on to talk to your friends because everybody uses it.

BROOKE, Freshman: You can be more crazy on line because there's no one watching to see what you're actually doing.

ROB HUNTER, Parent: I had no idea what she was doing on the Internet. That was a big surprise.

ANNOUNCER: But today, it's not just our kids. All of us are immersed in technology all the time-

MAN: This is a digital moment in my life.

ANNOUNCER: -from multitasking-

Prof. CLIFFORD NASS, Stanford University: Multitasking could be essentially dumbing down the world.

ANNOUNCER: -to the military-

Col. WILLIAM BRANDT, 432nd AEW, USAF: It is a complete cultural change for the Air Force.

ANNOUNCER: -in work-

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF, Correspondent: I mean, you've all met in real life at one point, right?

KAREN KEETER, Innovation Strategist, IBM: Actually, no.

ANNOUNCER: -and at play-

ERIN McCONKEY: The first hour, I was hooked. I would play literally non-stop.

ANNOUNCER: -and on the virtual frontier.

JEREMY BAILENSON, Dir., Virtual Human Interaction Lab: The question is, are we entering a new paradigm, or is this just the next best thing?

RESEARCHER: That's OK. They're not in the real world.

PHILIP ROSEDALE, Creator, Second Life: I think that you will live in the virtual world a significant percentage of the time.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, FRONTLINE producer Rachel Dretzin and correspondent Douglas Rushkoff look at the wired world we're living in, our new Digital Nation.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: I kind of want to push the pause button, and everything stops and we can look and say, "Just what's going on here?"

RACHEL DRETZIN, Correspondent: So it really hit me one night not that long ago. I was in the kitchen and I was cooking dinner, chopping vegetables, and my husband was in the next room on his laptop. And across the table from my husband was my oldest son, who was also on a laptop, doing his homework. And my younger kids had picked up my iPhone and were playing a game on it or something. And I don't know, it just hit me. We're all in the same house, but we're also in other worlds. And I don't know, it just kind of snuck up on us. I didn't see it coming.

1st WOMAN: These young teenagers on the phones and on the computers, it's amazing. Like, when I was growing up, it wasn't like that.

2nd WOMAN: I just remember when I went on my honeymoon 25 years ago, we were away for two weeks and we didn't know anything that happened in the two weeks that we were gone because we were on vacation. And that simply doesn't happen anymore.

1st MAN: We now have these tools to reach so many people, and all of a sudden, we look around and say, "Well, you know, now what?"

3rd WOMAN: Well over half my life exists in the digital world.

4th WOMAN: I'm connected to my BlackBerry. I need it at all times. I can't even imagine - I can't even imagine - not having it.

5th WOMAN: I use my phone. I go on MySpace, Twitter, FaceBook, everything.

2nd MAN: That's my digital life.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF, Correspondent: -returning to the scene of the crime. This is the first- this is where it all began. This is the first college where-

RACHEL DRETZIN: [voice-over] When I started this project, looking at life in the digital age, the first person I turned to was my friend, Douglas Rushkoff, whom I've worked with on two previous films. Doug's been writing about the Internet for close to two decades.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Well, geeks are normal now!

RACHEL DRETZIN: [on camera] It's true.

[voice-over] We decided to start here, on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: If anyone is a new species of digital native, it would be the MIT student. I mean, this is-

RACHEL DRETZIN: These kids are among the smartest, most wired people on the planet right now. They may hardly remember a time when they weren't able to be on line anywhere they went.

STUDENT: I have three tests this week.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Everywhere you go on this campus, kids are looking at screens, sometimes multiple screens.

STUDENT: Do you want an email back?

STUDENT: I was productive on Saturday.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Take Eliza. She's 20, a mechanical engineering major, and completely wired all the time.

ELIZA: Is it going to stay in beta for as long as Gmail stayed in beta? Like, a decade?

STUDENT: Probably.

ELIZA: I have a few friends who, if they hear the word BlackBerry, they think of me. Like, I am never off of it. It is glued to me. When it's more than arm's-length from me, I start to get panicky. It's very disconcerting.

I'm, like, I'll pull it up and show you, and I don't even send it to you! Are we G-chat buddies? Can I just-

I'm always IMing, I'm texting, or things like that, always checking my phone, taking care of other things while I'm doing something else.

KAMO: You are talking to your friend at the same time you're talking to your other friend, same time you're emailing another friend about what you're going to do tomorrow night.

The classes here are fun, man.

We kind of understand that, too, between each other. We're all so busy that it's OK if I'm talking to Murph right now and his BlackBerry goes off and he has to start going on it. I'm, like, Well, that's OK because I'm going to do that to him anyways, so- you just- it's a mutual understanding.

School, I think, is just kind of the same. Like, you're paying attention in class to your professor, you're emailing another professor and you're looking up something else.

Prof. SHERRY TURKLE, MIT Initiative on Technology and Self: Nobody who's been teaching for 25 years would say that our students aren't different now than they were then. I mean, they need- they need to be stimulated in ways that they didn't need to be stimulated before.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Sherry Turkle has been teaching at MIT for more than 30 years.

Prof. SHERRY TURKLE: Every professor who looks out onto a sea of students these days knows there's email, FaceBook, Googling me, Googling them, Googling their next-door neighbor, that's happening in the classroom.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Like most universities, MIT allows laptops in its classes at the professor's discretion.

Prof. SHERRY TURKLE: I mean, it even changes how teachers teach because now the- the pressure is on teaching kind of scintillating PowerPoint things that will distract them from the Web.

DAVID JONES, Associate Professor, MIT: There are two sorts of things you can test students about. You can test how well they're paying attention in lecture and you can test how well they're absorbing information from readings that you assign. And I don't think they're doing either of those things well.

I just gave my class a midterm, and I was really asking obvious questions that, had they been attending carefully in lecture and had they been doing the readings carefully, everyone should have gotten 100 percent on this exam. And the mean score was probably about a 75 percent. It's not that the students are dumb, it's not that they're not trying, I think they're trying in a way that's not as effective as it could be because they're distracted by everything else.

Prof. SHERRY TURKLE: I teach at MIT. I teach the most brilliant students in the world. But they have done themselves a disservice by drinking the Kool-Aid and believing that a multitasking learning environment will serve their best purposes. There really are important things you cannot think about unless it's still and you're only thinking about one thing at a time. There are just some things that are not amenable to being thought about in conjunction with 15 other things.

LAUREN: I feel like the professors here do have to accept that we can multitask very well and that we do at all times. And so if they try, and you know, restrict us from doing it, it's almost unfair because we are completely capable, moving in between lecture and other things and just keeping track of the many things that are going on in our lives.

RACHEL DRETZIN: No one's actually measured whether these kids are as successful at multitasking as they claim to be. But out in California, a respected research lab is studying their counterparts on the Stanford campus in Palo Alto.

Prof. CLIFFORD NASS, Stanford University: They understand the research. They're smart kids. But they seem utterly convinced it doesn't apply to them.

We want to study what's really going on in the brain. But when it comes to what parts of the brain [unintelligible] we know nothing. These are really the first studies of brain imaging of multitaskers versus non-multitaskers. So anything we discover here is new because we know zero. Now in this lab here, we're researching speaking on the cell phone while driving.

ASSISTANT: Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult person-

Prof. CLIFFORD NASS: You walk around the world and you see people multitasking. They're playing games and they're reading email and they're on FaceBook, et cetera. Yet classic psychology says that's impossible, no one can do that. In general, our brains can't do two things at once. And we want to ask the question, "How do they do it?" Do they have some secret ingredient, some special ability that psychologists had no idea about, or what's going on?

You guys were chosen because you're very high chronic multitaskers, and what that means-

RACHEL DRETZIN: Nass allowed us to film one of his studies, conducted on a group of carefully chosen students.

Prof. CLIFFORD NASS: On a college campus, most kids are doing two things at once, maybe three things at once. These are kids who are doing five, six or more things at once all the time.

RACHEL DRETZIN: The experiment looks simple: identify numbers as odd or even, letters as vowels or consonants. But it's rife with traps in the form of distractions. Nass is testing how quickly these kids can switch between tasks without losing their focus.

BRIAN: I'm pretty much constantly texting. And whenever I study I have my laptop out and-

RACHEL DRETZIN: Brian is a junior.

BRIAN: -I'm watching a YouTube video, I'm checking my email, non-stop refreshing the page, you know, on FaceBook, FaceBook chat-

RACHEL DRETZIN: He's pretty confident that his multitasking is successful.

BRIAN: -so that I can always stay connected.

RACHEL DRETZIN: [on camera] So you think you're effective?

BRIAN: I think so.

RACHEL DRETZIN: [voice-over] But his results, like others Nass has tested, suggested otherwise.

RESEARCHER: And what we found was you're actually significantly slower when you're switching than when you're doing kind of the same task consistently.

Prof. CLIFFORD NASS: Virtually all multitaskers think they are brilliant at multitasking. And one of the big discoveries is, You know what? You're really lousy at it! It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized. Recent work we've done suggests they're worse at analytic reasoning. We worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.

RACHEL DRETZIN: When i got back to new York, I noticed how much I, too, fell prey to distractions. I kept catching myself in the act, checking my email when I should have been writing a script, Googling something to satisfy a random curiosity. This is affecting all of us.

Prof. SHERRY TURKLE: The Shakespeare quote is, "We are consumed by that which we are nourished by." Speaking for myself, if all I do is my email and my calendar and my searches and my- I feel great. I feel like a master of the universe, getting my calendar and my meetings and my- I just feel great. And then it's the end of the day, I've been busy all day, and I haven't thought about anything hard. I mean, the point is- the point of it is to be our most creative selves, not to distract ourselves to death.

[ Turkle's extended interview]

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Distraction- combatting distraction isn't as easy as turning off your email program. If you turn off your email program, it's not the software that's going to complain, it's the people on the other side- your friends, your boss, your bills. You know, "Where's- where's my report? Why haven't you answered your email? Are you mad at me?" You can't do this in isolation. If you're going to deal with the problem of distraction, it's something we're going to have to deal with together.

RACHEL DRETZIN: [on camera] I feel like something's out of whack.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Maybe it's time to press the pause button.

[on camera] Yeah, well, it's not just you, it's everybody.

[voice-over] We need to know if we're tinkering with something more essential than we realize.

[on camera] -is changing what it means to be a human being by using all this stuff.

[voice-over] I mean, look at these kids. According to the latest data, most of them are spending more than 50 hours a week with digital media. That's more than a full work week. What is this doing to their brains?

[ More on living faster]

GARY SMALL, M.D., UCLA: You have young people whose brains are not fully developed. So how a young person chooses to spend their time will have a profound effect on what their brain will be like for the rest of their lives.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: So far, there's only one neuroscientist who's actually examined the impact of the Internet on our brains, Dr. Gary Small at UCLA. He took MRI scans of people's brain activity reading a book, and then another doing an Internet search.

Dr. GARY SMALL: This summarizes what we found in that brain on Google study. So here's your brain reading a book, here's your brain on Google, more than a two-fold increase in the extent of activity. And notice how much activity there is in the front part of the brain, the decision-making part of the brain, which makes sense because we know we're making lots of decisions when we're searching on line.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: You'd think more brain activity - all that red - means Google is making us smarter. And in fact, that's what most of the headlines said when Small's research was first released. But I knew it couldn't be that simple.

[on camera] Where's the other picture, the reading one? I feel like this does not do reading justice.

Dr. GARY SMALL: Well, you know, on a brain scan, big is not necessarily better. You know, if you go to the gym and you start lifting weights, at first, you're going to have to use a lot of energy. But if you train, you're going to become much better. You're going to be in better shape, you're going to lift more weight, and it's not going to take that much energy. So one could argue small is better. It's a little bit like playing golf, you want your score to go down.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] So wait a second. All that media hype, and the doctor himself isn't so sure about their conclusions? Small's study wasn't a confirmation of the Internet's beneficial effects. If anything, it was a call for some real research now. So why isn't anyone looking at the real effects of near constant net use?

Prof. MARK BAUERLEIN, Emory University: By the time you design a research study, apply for funding, implement the study, and you publish the results about the technology, what has happened? The technology's obsolete. We moved beyond it. And so the technology and the practices that go with the new technologies, they keep outdistancing the research. The research can't catch up with it.

Dr. GARY SMALL: We're immersed it in. And it's changing so rapidly, we're just beginning to grasp what's happening. So think of how long it took us to understand that smoking was bad for our health. I think it takes people a while for reality to hit them in the face. It's hard to get people to stop texting while they're driving, although it's a 23 times greater risk of having an accident. How do you get people to stop these behaviors? It's very difficult.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Since when has spending time on line become a risky behavior like drinking or gambling? Is it that addictive?

Dr. GARY SMALL: I think it's addictive. There's controversy among experts whether it is or not. In Asia, there's a recognition that teenagers, many teenagers, are addicted to video games. I think they're- we're behind the Asians in terms of focusing on the problem.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It's hard to follow the story of Asia's digital revolution without somehow ending up in South Korea. South Korea's digital culture isn't characterized by the home computer so much as its legendary Internet cafes, known as "PC bangs," which dot the streets of every major city here. There are thousands of them in Seoul alone, offering cheap 24/7 high-speed Internet access to the tens of thousands of kids who want to play video games all day, or even all night.

[on camera] Do you ever stay overnight, all night?

PC BANG BOYS: [subtitles] Sometimes. We like this better than studying.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] It's here in the PC bangs, people say, that the Korean gaming craze has gotten out of hand, and it was sobering to see row after row of kids glued to these screens, expressionless. As it turns out, a few people have actually died in PC bangs after gaming marathons where they played 50 hours or more with little food or water.

[on camera] We read the newspaper about Korea. They say gaming is a problem now, that people are addicted to the games, addicted to the Internet. And they're not getting their studies done. Do you feel- is there a problem for you?

PC BANG BOYS: [subtitles] We don't play like we're addicted. Just once in a while for fun. But there are many who are addicted.

Dr. AHN DONG-HYUN, Psychiatrist: [through interpreter] There's an argument about whether it's a real disease or just a phenomenon, but we think that it's definitely an addiction.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] The Korean government commissioned this psychiatrist, Dr. Ahn Dong-Hyun, to conduct a three-year study on the question of Internet addiction. His findings helped Korea become one of the first countries to treat it as a psychiatric disorder.

Dr. AHN DONG-HYUN: [through interpreter] About 90 percent of Korean children use the Internet in their daily life. Of those, about 10 to 15 percent are in the high-risk group.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: What's now a public health crisis began with the best of intentions. Ten years ago, this country emerged from economic crisis by refashioning its culture and commerce around digital technology. Its embrace of the on-line world was broad and deep, and it's not altogether surprising that South Korea has become one of the first countries to confront the fallout of the digital revolution.

We met 15-year-old year old Chung Young-il in a city south of Seoul.

CHUNG YOUNG-IL, Rescue School Participant: [through interpreter] It's pretty extreme. I play 7 or 8 hours a day. Then on weekends, I stay up all night on the computer.

Mrs. SHIM SONG-JA: [subtitles] What are you doing?

CHUNG YOUNG-IL: [subtitles] Computer games.

Mrs. SHIM SONG-JA: [through interpreter] When Young-Il starts a game, he doesn't know when to stop and he just plays for hours.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Over the last year, Young-il has dropped from the top half of his class to the bottom. His mother thinks it's because of the computer.

Mrs. SHIM SONG-JA: [through interpreter] I'm not sure, but I think he mostly uses the computer to play some type of fighting game. I wish those games didn't exist.

[subtitles] You have to help Mom, OK? You're going to help, right?

[through interpreter] That inability to communicate with me, his own mother, makes me so sad.

CHUNG YOUNG-IL: [subtitles] Thanks for the food.

Mrs. SHIM SONG-JA: [through interpreter] I think if I can't control him right now, I may lose my son. This is an addiction. Only an addict could act this way.

ADMINISTRATOR: [subtitles] The Internet Rescue School is a two-week treatment camp.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: In an effort to help kids like Young-il, the Korean government has opened free "Internet rescue camps" throughout the country.

ADMINISTRATOR: [subtitles] We will be taking the cell phones away from the students.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: At the recommendation of a teacher, Young-il's mother will be leaving him here for two weeks.

GROUP LEADER: [subtitles] The reason you all are here, it's because you want to decrease the time you spend on the Internet.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: The day starts with a group counseling session.

GROUP LEADER: [subtitles] "Because of the Internet, my health has gotten worse and there is no longer structure to my life." Who has checked that box? Everyone has checked that box? You did, too?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Most of the kids here say they've had to seek medical treatment for health problems that result from overusing the computer-

GROUP LEADER: [subtitles] Because of your eyes?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: -like eyestrain and ear complications.

GROUP LEADER: [subtitles] Your ears?

CHUNG YOUNG-IL: I feel awkward.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: The kids' treatment regimen, surprisingly low-tech, seemed designed mainly to recapture a childhood lost to the computer.

[on camera] When you go home, will you start using computer again, or will it be different?

CHUNG YOUNG-IL: [through interpreter] Honestly, I don't expect a lot. Not using the computer for 10 days was hard. I just kept thinking about the games or about getting out of the camp and going home.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] My heart went out to these kids, casualties of the digital revolution. For better and for worse, these people are connected and connecting through the technologies that I championed 20 years ago, when I first started writing and speaking about a future I called "cyberia."

NEWSCASTER: His latest is called Cyberia. Doug Rushkoff joins us this morning in New York. Hello, Doug.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] Hi, good to be here.

[voice-over] In the early days of the Internet, it was easy for me to reassure people about what it would mean to bring digital technology into their lives.

NEWSCASTER: Are folks getting a little afraid of the technology, since it's going so quickly? Are we going to be left in the dust, or can we keep up?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] Well, I think people get scared as things develop, especially when the-

[voice-over] Back then, I was convinced the Web could help us change in profoundly good ways, allowing us to evolve into better people.

BILL MOYERS: Well, I'd like to introduce you, Ms. Tollman, to the new human being. Here he is!

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Well, it's a new human being that's evolved, I think, to the next level, and I think it's fascinating and wonderful to watch.

[voice-over] I felt like I was in on a secret, that these old fuddy-duddys were just panicking, underestimating our kids' ability to adapt to the new reality before us.

[on camera] If you're actually moving around the pixels yourself on the screen-

[voice-over] Over the past 20 years, however, the net has changed from a thing one does to the way one lives - connected all the time - and it appears that far more of these kids than I would have thought are overwhelmed.

TEACHER: [subtitles] We've learned today ways the Internet is better than television.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: The Korean government has taken an assertive approach to addressing the social problems caused by the net.

TEACHER: [subtitles] At the bottom, do you see the register option?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: At Korean elementary schools, kids are taught to go on line around the same time they're taught to read.

TEACHER: [subtitles] How should we use the Internet in the future? Write about three lines. How many lines?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: But they're also taught something else, how to use computers responsibly. It's required for Korean students starting in the 2nd grade.

TEACHER: [subtitles] One more time- click!

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: At this school, signs preaching healthy Internet habits line the hallways.

[on camera] And what's this one say?

TEACHER: "Slanderous comment on Internet hurts my friend."

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And this one says, "Constantly playing computer games shrinks your capacity to think." "Our ancestors were known as the politest Eastern state. Now we are the kingdom of Internet etiquette."

CHILDREN: [singing, subtitles] While chatting, first greet happily! During the game, always be open, honest and do the right thing. Be careful on the keyboard. I know who did it. Be careful! I know!

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] When a child is just 6 years old, what's the most important thing they need to learn about the Internet?

TEACHER: [through interpreter] I think they must learn ethics first, Internet etiquette and manners, and then learn the technical side of it.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Watching these kids, I'm skeptical that this top-down approach could ever work in America. I guess we'll have to find our own way.

CHILDREN: [singing, subtitles] I am the Internet guardian angel. I will be the first to protect. I want to be the first to protect. Though faces are unknown, it's a warm neighborhood. Precious Internet friend. Friend! Netiquette!

RACHEL DRETZIN: [voice-over] At home in Brooklyn, I have three digital natives of my own. Watching my kids with the computer, I find myself wondering, "How did they figure this out?" Were these skills somehow handed out at birth? And could anything that seems so natural really be bad?

Last fall, after a lot of careful consideration, we decided to send our oldest son to a middle school that requires him to use a laptop in class and for most of his homework. We figured since he's likely to be using computers for the rest of his life, he might as well learn to use them in a school setting.

[on camera] What are you doing?

CHILD: I'm looking at these blogs for my English history.


CHILD: So this one's about current events.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Wait. Who wrote these blogs?

CHILD: Our class. I mean, it was homework one night. So this is all about-

RACHEL DRETZIN: How do you know how to make a blog?

CHILD: And this is mine. It's called EduBlogs. See, like, you can add links, like this, and you can add comments.

STEVEN MAHER, Chatham High School: There's a difference between the people who grew up with the technology and the people who didn't. So I'm an immigrant to this world, whereas the kids who grew up in it are- are natives.

[to class] Nineteen responses. The answer is the Middle Ages. Why?

RACHEL DRETZIN: [voice-over] We filmed at this high school in Chatham, New Jersey, when we were making our last documentary, "Growing Up on Line," which looked at the impact of the Internet on adolescence.

STEVEN MAHER: How many are confident of their answers?

RACHEL DRETZIN: The school had largely embraced the idea that their classrooms need to meet kids where they're living, on line.

STEVEN MAHER: If you look at all these images- see? These are- these take place at different times.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Steve Maher was a history teacher there.

STEVEN MAHER: If you think about the media environment that an average American teenager lives in, to walk into a classroom that doesn't have any of that media must be walking- like walking into the desert.

RACHEL DRETZIN: That was the first time it occurred to me that my children's education might have a different purpose than mine did.

STEVEN MAHER: Who would do that? Someone from the Middle Ages, or someone from the Renaissance?

The world that we're preparing them for isn't going to require of them that they have to remember a bunch of information that someone tells them. The world's going to require for them to do stuff, to build things, to work on stuff, and that's what we're preparing them for.

JASON LEVY, Principal, I.S. 339: We could argue all we want about kids needing to stay in their seat and be quiet, but I don't know of any jobs that are going to exist, that even exist now, that require kids to stay in their seats and be quiet.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Jason Levy is the principal of a middle school in New York's South Bronx.

JASON LEVY: Kids are going to need to be fluent in technology. They're going to need to be excellent at communication. They're going to need to be problem solvers. That's just the way the world is now.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Four years ago, the school was on the verge of collapse.

GINA CRUZ, Asst. Principal, I.S. 339: Kids were not being challenged. There were a lot of fights and arguments, a lot of gang activity.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Only 9 percent of the students were meeting state standards in math.

JASON LEVY: Walking through the hallways, it felt like at any moment, chaos was going to break out. It felt like every day, we were holding on with everything we could just to get through the day.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Levy took over the school in 2004, after a string of other principals had been unable to turn it around. He had an ambitious idea.

GINA CRUZ: Jason said, "My vision is to have all the students with laptops, do their homework on line." I said, "Jason, I've been doing this 25 years. You think this is possible? I think you're crazy!" He said, "No, this is going to happen, this is going to work here, Gina. Watch."

JASON LEVY: To me, there should never be a question as to whether or not students should have access to technology. Technology is like oxygen, you know, and you take- no one would ever have an argument that we should take away they oxygen from the kids. I think, if anything, we make school make more sense for them when we provide them with the opportunity to use technology.

JENNIFER JOHNS, Teacher, I.S. 339: The computer has been amazing.

The email I just sent called "Monday Ning project tasks."

Ning is a social networking site where you can make your own separate little network. And so I created Ning social networks for my students as characters for "To Kill a Mockingbird."

[to class] If you are Atticus, you're creating the discussion question.

And they can write discussion questions. They can comment on each other's walls. They upload pictures. They write diary entries. They add music. They're finding jazz songs that I gave them, Billie Holiday songs that go with the time period. And its amazing that these kids are getting so into it because I was really worried they wouldn't grasp the novel.

DAVID PRINSTEIN, Dean of Instruction, I.S. 339: Incidents of violence are way down. We track those things, and they've been decimated. Daily attendance is up over 90 percent. In test scores, we went up in reading 30 percent, and in math almost 40 percent. You know, I wake up every day and I go to bed every night knowing that we're doing something right.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Something is working here, undoubtedly. It feels like the kids' minds are being opened in a new way. They're hooked. But is there a catch to this?

TODD OPPENHEIMER, Author, The Flickering Mind: My concern with this digital media is it's such short-attention-span stuff, that they get bored. It's what I call instant gratification education. A thought comes to you, you pursue it. You see a Web site, you click on it. You want to hear music while you're studying, you do it. All this bifurcates the brain, keeps it from being able to pursue one linear thought and teaches you that you should be able to have every urge answered the minute the urge occurs.

RACHEL DRETZIN: The school is often battling the lures of on-line Distractions. Its firewall blocks access to sites like YouTube and MySpace, but the kids figure out how to get to them anyway.

OSAFO: Sometimes the teachers bore us, and instead of listening to them, we go on the Web sites.

TANIJA: If a teacher comes or something, they'll switch it so the teacher won't see, you know? It's mostly MySpace, AIM, and games. But at the same time, doing our schoolwork.

DANIEL ACKERMAN, Asst. Principal, I.S. 339: So I click, and there's an "observe" button, and it brings up their screen.

RACHEL DRETZIN: The school's assistant principal spends part of each day remotely monitoring what the kids are doing on their laptops.

DANIEL ACKERMAN: Oh, we have a Photo Booth.

RACHEL DRETZIN: He can see them, but they canít see him.

DANIEL ACKERMAN: These kids are goofing off, taking pictures of themselves in class.

RACHEL DRETZIN: [on camera] So wait. Do all the kids have the cameras on?

DANIEL ACKERMAN: 6th and 7th grade have cameras. A lot of kids are just on it to just check their hair, do their makeup. They just use it like it's a mirror. And I always like to mess with them and take a picture. Nine times out of ten, they duck out of the way. And then they shut down and they get right back to work.

So I can see he's got a few things going on here. He's got the Photo Booth program open. He's got his social studies project open, school email open.

You know, I think the kids know what is expected of them, but they also want to do all their other things. That's what I see a lot of, is the multitasking- "But I was doing my work, too!"

RACHEL DRETZIN: [voice-over] Most of the adults at the school actually seemed pretty sanguine about the kids being so easily distracted.

DANIEL ACKERMAN: You learn something new every day.

JENNIFER JOHNS, Teacher, I.S. 339: I think there's something to be said for multitasking; I think that teaching students to multitask is really important for their future jobs.

JASON LEVY: We have to embrace the fact that our kids are going to need different skills five years from now than they needed five years ago. I think that the world has sped up in a lot of ways, and I think education hasn't.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Here in the Bronx, where most of the kids weren't engaged in school at all before, bringing in technology has clearly been a net gain. But what about the kids at MIT and the multitasking experiments at Stanford? at some point, does the increasing use of technology create diminishing returns?

GREG BUKATA: I never read books. I'll be honest, I can't remember the last time I read a book.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Greg Bukata was a senior when we filmed him at Chatham High School several years ago.

GREG BUKATA: Nowadays, people are so busy that they need to get summaries of it, like Sparknotes. You can read the whole book in a matter of pages. So I read all on line. I've actually never read, like, Romeo and Juliet, so I read it yesterday in five minutes. I mean, if there were 27 hours in a day, I'd read Hamlet. I really would. But I- it's only 24.

Prof. MARK BAUERLEIN, Emory University: You will find a lot of English professors saying, "I can't assign a novel more than 200 pages. I used to. I can't anymore."

RACHEL DRETZIN: Mark Bauerlein, a professor at Emory University, wrote a book called The Dumbest Generation. It's filled with data suggesting that kids aren't as academically capable as they used to be, before all these digital distractions.

MARK BAUERLEIN: What I would like more than anything else is for young people to prove every single harsh judgment in that book flat wrong, right? We want them to grow up and to blow us away with their literacies, their reading and writing skills, their knowledge about- about history and art, and their civic activity. But we just don't see it.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Bauerlein quotes a 2007 NEA study that shows that while younger students' reading skills are improving, as kids get older and ostensibly more wired, their reading deteriorates. And he claims that writing skills are suffering, too.

MARK BAUERLEIN: When The Chronicle of Higher Education surveyed college professors about basic skills today as compared to 10 years ago, only 6 percent of them said that college students come into their classes very well prepared in writing. By a 2-to-1 margin they said basic skills are worse today than they were a decade ago.

Prof. CLIFFORD NASS, Stanford University: You already hear professors and others talking about changes in the way kids write, so that instead of writing an essay, they write in paragraphs. They write a paragraph and they say, "Oh, now I'll look at FaceBook for a while." Or they write a paragraph and say, "Oh, a chance to play poker," or to do all of these at once. So what we're seeing is less of a notion of a big idea carried through and much more little bursts and snippets.

RACHEL DRETZIN: The MIT students we met confirmed that constant interruptions have an effect on their writing.

[on camera] Like, we've talked to professors, not necessarily here, but who say that students of your generation write in paragraphs. In other words, there isn't this kind of connection between paragraphs. It's like the paragraphs are kind of separate and-

KAMO: Oh, I do that all the time! [laughter] My papers, my first draft, it's always, like "All right, paragraph one, awesome. Two, awesome. Three, awesome. I don't see the connection." And in my head, well, I was probably thinking about something else during then or I wasn't look at the big picture. It was short term, short term, short term. Let me write out an awesome paragraph and then go to the next one, my next idea.

RACHEL DRETZIN: [voice-over] My kids are young and they all still read books. But will that stop being the case as they get more immersed in technology? To me, that seems like a pretty devastating loss.

MARC PRENSKY, Founder & CEO, Games2train: The reason a lot of people are stuck, I think, is because they confuse the old ways, the best ways of doing something once, with the best ways of doing those things forever. So it's not that kids shouldn't learn to communicate. It's not that they shouldn't learn to express complex ideas. Of course they should still learn all those things. Those are what we call the verbs. The nouns that they use, whether it's the essay or the paper or the writing or whatever it is, or whether it's the video or the podcast or the- that's what changes.

The learning may stay the same, but we invent new ways of teaching. And I don't know that the book, which was for a long period of time - but not that long, maybe a couple of centuries - the way that people did this - that was the primary way - is the best way in the 21st century.

[ Watch this program on line]

Prof. JAMES PAUL GEE, Arizona State Univ.: There's always gains and losses. You know, when print replaced oral culture, when writing happened, there are certainly things we lost. One of them was memory. Think of the Homeric poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Homeric singers could produce thousands of lines of poetry out of their own memory. We're not good at that anymore because print took it away.

Is it a loss? Sure. And to a certain extent, getting people to be contemplative and a little bit slower, not to multitask all the time, paying avid attention over a long period of time- to a certain extent might be lost. But that's the price of gain.

RACHEL DRETZIN: [on camera] Do you struggle with the issue of distraction, personally?

Prof. HENRY JENKINS, USC: I don't know anyone on the planet who doesn't struggle with the issue of distraction personally. You get pulled in every direction today. But this is not a new issue. Go back and read descriptions of the progressive era, walking down the streets in New York and the sense of your eyes being pulled in every direction by the hubbub of the crowd. People described it as being like electrocuted, you know, bolts of energy shooting through you from every direction. People as early as the 1960s were telling us we were moving to a reality of information overload.

So the point is, this is a problem that we as human beings have coped with throughout most of the 20th century, into the 21st century. And the good news is we survived it. As a culture, we've learned how to adapt to it. So what we are seeing is a period of evolution. And at the end of the day, we're better off as a society if we go at this with a sense of open-mindedness and exploration.

1st WOMAN: I'm on my computer 24/7. And I think it's kind of sad. But it's kind of a good thing that we should embrace technology that we have. And we should be thankful for it.

1st MAN: I was in the library with BlackBerry, had my laptop-

RACHEL DRETZIN: On FRONTLINE'S Digital Nation Web site, hundreds of people have submitted their own stories about how the net has impacted their lives.

[ Submit your story]

1st MAN: She said, You know what? This is really sad. We're supposed to be on vacation and we're totally wired. So I mean-

RACHEL DRETZIN: There are stories of parenting in the digital age-

2nd WOMAN: My son learned to read through gaming.

2nd MAN: My kids can do four or five functions concurrently and never even break a sweat.

RACHEL DRETZIN: -of personal transformation-

3rd WOMAN: I went from a carboholic couch potato to a cyber-crusading warrior princess.

3rd MAN: I deleted her. I deleted her sister-

RACHEL DRETZIN: -stories of romance-

3rd MAN: I deleted her cousin. I deleted her three best friends.

RACHEL DRETZIN: -and struggles with privacy.

4th WOMAN: I ended up taking it down, but now I sort of feel like I have to censor sometimes what I say with my family. Whereas before, like, the minute that I felt something, I would just type it out. But now that I know that, like, people are watching me?

RACHEL DRETZIN: But one of the most irresistible stories was this one.

BAYLA "BUBBE" SHER: Let me tell you this. I never knew what blogging was, or Twitter or any of these fancy names. Do you know, I'm becoming an expert!

RACHEL DRETZIN: It turned out that an 83-year-old woman and her grandson have a hit on-line cooking show called "Feed Me Bubbe."

AVROM HONIG, Grandson: Bubbe, what's today's Yiddish word?

BAYLA "BUBBE" SHER: The Yiddish word of the day is Bubbe, meaning grandmother.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Bubbe cooks, and her grandson, Avrom, does everything else.

BAYLA "BUBBE" SHER: Rachel and Doug, welcome to my home. Shalom! Come in. Come into my favorite spot, the kitchen. Are you hungry? Do you want to eat? It's just tuna fish with a little bit of mayo. And then roll it up carefully.

You know, I worked until I was 73. I worked for a bank. And all of a sudden, this came along, and now I'm too busy!

AVROM HONIG: The Internet really, I have to say, added years to Bubbe's life.

BAYLA "BUBBE" SHER: I think, these days, it's important for any age. I mean, it's growing- it's changing so fast that if you don't keep up with it a little bit, you're really left behind.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] Do you sometimes feel bad for kids being raised in an Internet era, that they depend so much on the digital for their sense of connection to other people?

BAYLA "BUBBE" SHER: They grew up with it. To them, it's like second nature. And it's easier for my grandchildren to go into email- I get angry sometimes at them. I say, "Do you know, I'd like to hear your voice! I know you email." They sit down and they'll type out email, and it's wonderful. But call me on the telephone!

AVROM HONIG: Ready to answer some e-mail?



BAYLA "BUBBE" SHER: "Every time I read your recipes, I think about my mother. I miss her. Thank you."

There's something missing that they have to pour their heart out to me, their memories, their feelings, their weaknesses.

AVROM HONIG: What do you want to say to Charlotte?

BAYLA "BUBBE" SHER: Please let me know how you make out, signed Bubbe.

It's- it's- I don't know - a little bit of loneliness, that there's something there that I filled it- that Bubbe fills the gap, that video fills the gap.

Please keep in touch.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Bubbe uses the net to help simulate the sense of connection that people have with their own grandmothers. But it's just a baby step. I mean, nobody gets to go to Bubbe's kitchen in the flesh. Not yet, anyway. But there are people who are nonetheless reaching through to the other side of the screen, trying to inhabit the net as if it were a real place.

[voice-over] World of Warcraft is a massively multi-player on-line game that brings millions of people from around the world into the same virtual universe- in this case, a land of dragons, elves and orcs called Azeroth.

Azeroth has three continents to explore in almost infinite detail. Players travel its skies, seas, forests and deserts on everything from mechanical birds to gryphons.

Prof. JAMES PAUL GEE, Arizona State Univ.: When you're playing a massive multi-player game like World of Warcraft, you're having experiences that you could never have had in the real world. Games do give people a powerful vicarious life.

When you think about it, for most of human time on earth, you couldn't be any different then you were born. If you were born a peasant, that was it. If I came along to that guy and said, you know, "You're going to be a peasant for all your life, but I've got this world you can enter where you can be a king," who wouldn't have played it?

KATIE SALEN, Dir. of Design, Quest to Learn: That element of fantasy, that element of imagination is incredibly powerful. You are fully immersed in a world that's telling you a kind of story. We often get this when we watch a film or we read a book that we're really interested in. But games seem to do it even more, I think because games create this kind of immersive world that you step into. And that stuff's powerful.

GAME PLAYER: You know, that's kind of weird. They've told about everything else.

KATIE SALEN: And you actually have a really hard problem to work on and other people there to help work on it.

GAME PLAYER: They shouldn't be late.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Alen lives in New York and is a member of a guild, a group of players that work together to fight off monsters, attack enemy outposts and have adventures. This guild raids, on average, four evenings a week.

GAME PLAYER: I need to hug my boy good night. I'll be right back.

CONVENTION PARTICIPANT: Win Rider, Orc Shamen, Windster Clan, forward!

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Many of these people never actually meet each other in person unless they travel to one of the annual fan conventions sponsored by the gaming companies. But they say they consider each other close friends.

GUILD MEMBER: We talk four times a week because we meet on line, so- we recognize everyone's voices and we're just getting used to faces now.

ALEN: Yeah, we have members as far away as New Zealand.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Last summer we followed Alen and his wife, Liza, out to California, where every year, Blizzard Entertainment throws a giant party for its fans.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Oh, my God! They're all playing the game.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Sure, games like Warcraft aren't for everyone, but the number and variety of people here was impressive.

[on camera] This is basically your PC bang, U.S.-style. They get it once a year.

[voice-over] America's enthusiasm for this genre may not be quite as widespread as it is in Korea, but it also seems to be fueled by a somewhat different desire, the urge to connect to other people.

GEORGE MICHAELS: We've all spent hundreds of hours together. My traditional-style friends who I have outside the game, none of them do I spend 16 hours a week with, week in and week out. I mean, I've known some of these folks for years.

JANICE GOSNEL: People who do not game and do not have the experience don't understand the friendships, the connections, and how close you can get to someone that you've never seen.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: But just like the gamers in Korea, a sizable number of American players struggle with compulsive gaming.

ERIN McCONKEY: The first hour, I was hooked. I was immediately immersed in this world- of course, completely made up, but it was so striking. And I could not stop playing at all. I would play literally non-stop.

KACIE SPORACIO: I got so into World of Warcraft that I was getting up at about 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning, and I'd play straight through the day and I wouldn't log off until about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. I even kind of quit my job because I really didn't want to do anything other than play World of Warcraft.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: The average amount of time people spend in Warcraft is nearly 10 hours a week, but many people spend much, much more. The fantasy role-playing game Everquest is just as compelling.

1st GAMER: Oh, I've talked with you!

2nd GAMER: Oh, you're Nicholas!

1st GAMER: I'm Nicholas!

RACHEL DRETZIN: [on camera] How do you guys all know each other?

PETER STORMS: We met through the game.

TORY HOLLAND: The game. All on line.

PETER STORMS: Yes, on line, yeah.

TORY HOLLAND: We had never met before we came down here to Las Vegas.

TAISHA SMITH: This is the most fun I ever had in my life. I'm closer to my on-line friends than anybody in real life.

RASHAUN WALKER: Yeah. Pretty much.

TAISHA SMITH: Definitely.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: The relationships people forge in these games seem to have a particularly intense quality. It's not uncommon for "in game" romances to migrate to real life, even lead to marriage.

GAMER: They met in World of Warcraft.

ERIN McCONKEY: And now we're married.

GAMER: And now they're married!

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Evidently, almost a third of female players have met a romantic partner inside the game.

TAMARA LANGMAN: You know, we went out and had dates in real life. But to me, I'm always going to consider my first date the time when he broke into a castle to come meet me. I just thought it was so romantic!

ELLEN CALAM: We still play together. We have our computers in the same room so we can talk to each other and-

ROB CALAM: We sit back to back-

ELLEN CALAM: -play the games and strategize.

ROB CALAM: -help each other out.


DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: I knew better than to assume that all gamers were antisocial geeks, but I was still surprised by just how deeply connected these people seemed to be to each other. The technology wasn't isolating them, it was giving them a new way to be intimate. Maybe virtual worlds do offer humans the chance to go and do something altogether new.

PHILIP ROSEDALE, Creator, Second Life: I remember, from the time I was young, always wondering, "Well, is there more than this?" You know, whenever I'd do anything, I'd always kind of have this question in the back of my mind, saying, "Well, does it get better than this? Does it get better?"

In fact, I remember a great aphorism that said, imagine the world as good as you can imagine it, and then know one thing, God has imagined it better than you. And that always made me- that always made me think, "Oh, really?"

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: When Philip Rosedale created Second Life, he insisted it was not a game, it was a new reality.

PHILIP ROSEDALE: If you ask the question, "What does the virtual world look like," it looks like the average of all the things we dream about. It's a place where you can become someone new and it's a place where you can create and discover things that you couldn't possibly imagine or have ever seen here on Earth.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] Why can't I fly? I thought "Page up" is fly.

Second Life is an immersive 3-D on-line universe. You make a character called an avatar, and then you live in that world as that person.

[voice-over] Avatars in Second Life can do most anything real people do- purchase real estate, hold rock concerts, give seminars, create art, and make money.

For a while, companies like Coke and Calvin Klein, thinking Second Life would be the next big thing, opened virtual outposts there. It didn't work. Marketing real goods in virtual worlds never really took off.

But Rosedale says that creating a viable marketplace was never his point. He wanted something else, to rewrite the rules of interaction between human beings.

PHILIP ROSEDALE: I think that our society today, you know, we are alienated from each other and from the world around us. When people come together in a virtual world, we immediately become more social and more connected and more dependent on each other. And I think that when people go into virtual worlds, the sense of being physically near each other causes them to behave much better than they do, say, in email or instant messaging. And that's an interesting phenomenon.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Rosedale holds up his own workplace as a model for this more intimate, more tender on-line culture.

PHILIP ROSEDALE: So you know, we all do sit open, without any cubicles or anything here-

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: He's instituted something called "the love machine" through which his employees send each other messages of encouragement on line.

PHILIP ROSEDALE: And we use it as a performance- like, it's how we track how we're all doing.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: They often hold their meetings around campfires or on sandy beaches in Second Life, even when they're sitting across the office from each other.

PHILIP ROSEDALE: This is my desk. There's not a whole lot to our real spaces anymore. You know, all the big stuff is virtual. My office in the virtual world is much cooler than this. It's a big glass room with room for, like, 10 people to sit down and talk at the same time.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] There's no phones ringing.

PHILIP ROSEDALE: Yeah, there's really- nobody uses phones anymore!

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] What struck me most about Rosedale was his confidence that he could solve the alienation modern technology has helped to create, with more technology.

PHILIP ROSEDALE: Technology over the last, say, 50 years has mostly separated us. You know, we've gone from watching movies together to watching them in living rooms to watching them on iPods. And I think that the technology is now actually starting to bring us back together again.

[in meeting] Yeah, I think that's the right approach. Does everybody agree?

One of the things that's unique about virtual reality is that unlike the Internet, you're not alone anymore.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] He's got a point, at least in a way. We are all together, out on the Internet, alone- or alone out on the Internet together, right? I mean, do virtual worlds really bring us together with others, or do they just make being utterly alone a little more bearable?

FRANCOISE LeGOUES, V.P., Innovation Initiatives, IBM: Hi, everybody. I'm very happy all of you managed to join us. We're going to teach you how to move around, how to walk around without bumping into people.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] These IBM employees are getting their first lesson in how to use Second Life.

FRANCOISE LeGOUES: The goal is to basically use this tool on a day-to-day basis, to make it as easy for you to collaborate with people in India and in China-

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: The company is in the process of shifting many of its internal meetings into virtual worlds.

FRANCOISE LeGOUES: -the office, and hopefully, make it almost as natural.

We're just putting the metrics in place, but we estimate that for all the meetings that we ran last year, we saved more than a million dollars just by not flying to meetings.

KAREN KEETER, Innovation Strategist, IBM: So click the "fly" button, and what you'll notice is that you'll hover up in the air. And once you're in that hovering position, that means you're all ready to fly. Very good, Scott. Anybody else? Don't be afraid.

IBM EMPLOYEE: Oh! How do I get down?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: But as big an incentive as saving money on travel is the idea that virtual worlds might recapture the human connection lost in a culture of videoconferencing and phone calls.

KAREN KEETER: So that makes sense?


KAREN KEETER: All right, let's get over there.


FRANCOISE LeGOUES: This technology will make it possible for me to work from home but still introduce this notion of being able to meet people and be much more in the old workplace environment, where, in fact, you did have a team around you that you would meet face to face and you'd have ad hoc meetings. You know, you'd go, "OK, let's go to this conference room, let's have a cup of coffee." You can almost do that virtually while a lot of us are working remotely.

[ LeGoues's extended interview]

Hey, Fran, it's me. I just don't have my agenda in front of me, so can you just read it to me, let me know what's up?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Francoise LeGoues lives with her husband, who also works for IBM, and their two dogs in New York's Hudson Valley, about a half an hour's drive from the office.

FRANCOISE LeGOUES: They did it in Second Life, didn't they? So how did it go?

I work from home maybe three days a week. So I could be in my office, but I'd be on the phone anyway.

VIRTUAL MEETING PARTICIPANT: Why don't we stand up and have this conversation?


VIRTUAL MEETING PARTICIPANT: Or we could go on and sit in some of the chairs.

FRANCOISE LeGOUES: Oh, there are tables behind there? OK.

I need to get better clothes for these meetings because, you know, what I'm wearing, first, it's boring. I'm wearing the same thing as Margot, and that just won't do.

VIRTUAL MEETING PARTICIPANT: I agree. I want my glasses back. I'll tell you, I can't see anything in this-

FRANCOISE LeGOUES: This immersive environment that the 3D Internet gives us is much more engaging, much more human in a way. This is something that is going to change the way people communicate because it really does feel real.

Thank you, everybody, for joining from wherever you are.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: IBM built this office park in Westchester, New York, in the late 1980s as a hub for thousands of employees. But today the place is like a ghost town. It's as if no one actually works here.

[on camera] They planned this place as an Industrial Age company, where people would actually come to work in their cars and park, go into offices. And now, basically, everybody is either at home or in hotels or God knows where, logging in through their machines. It's not- it's not that IBM let everybody go, right, it's that everybody's just not here.

KAREN KEETER: Yeah, why don't you come over and sit down in a seat so we can see you. I feel like I'm all alone here.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Could you tell us where you all are, where you're coming into this room from, in real space?

KAREN KEETER: Like, where you really live, I guess is the question.

FIRST PARTICIPANT: So, hi. This is Julie, based out of Burlington, Vermont.

FIRST PARTICIPANT: Hi, this is Johan. I'm living in Tubingen, Germany.

FIRST PARTICIPANT: Hi, this is Arthur. I'm from San Campinas, a city near Sao Paolo, in Brazil.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: I mean, you've all met in real life at one point or another, right?

KAREN KEETER: Actually, no. None of us have.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: But you're- you're- this is your main team, right?

KAREN KEETER: Yeah, actually, you know, we meet here every day, so this is how we know each other.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] As more of our real lives migrate to virtual spaces, there's a growing market for research exploring how we behave inside those spaces, as well as how our virtual experiences change us.

JEREMY BAILENSON, Dir., Virtual Human Interaction Lab: This is a subject who's in the midst of an experiment right now. She's wearing a head-mounted display that shows what you're seeing here.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Jeremy Bailenson runs the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford.

JEREMY BAILENSON: She's actually seeing depth in stereo. You can see that candy coming right into her mouth.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: His research shows how the distinctions between real and virtual are becoming blurred, even interchangeable.

JEREMY BAILENSON: Subjects would report afterwards being sick, being full-

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It's a subject of intense interest right now to the government, marketers, even the military, all of whom fund his work.

JEREMY BAILENSON: We're not wired to differentiate experiences like this one from actual eating, meaning digital stuff is such a new phenomenon that if it looks real and it feels real, the brain tells us it's real.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And the identification gets even more profound when our avatars wear our real-life faces. Bailenson was able to build an avatar that looked just like me in about 15 minutes.

JEREMY BAILENSON: So no we've built virtual Doug, I can have him say anything I want.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And that's when the real fun begins.

JEREMY BAILENSON: In one study, we made you 10 centimeters taller than you actually were and had you conduct a negotiation with someone. Having 10 centimeters difference in height from your normal self causes you to be three times more likely to beat someone else in a negotiation in virtual reality.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And Bailenson found that advantage persists even after you leave the virtual world.

JEREMY BAILENSON: Regardless of our actual height, you'll then beat me face to face when we have a negotiation. So this stunned us. A small exposure inside virtual reality carried over to their behavior face to face.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: But Bailenson's most stunning research involved kids. He calls it the "Swimming with whales experiment."

RESEARCHER: OK. Well, I heard a little earlier that when you were 3 years old, 2 years ago, you swam with two black and white fish named Fudgy and Buddy. Do you remember swimming with the black and white fish, Fudgy and Buddy?


RESEARCHER: No, you don't remember anything?

JEREMY BAILENSON: We've done studies with children, when they see themselves swimming around with whales in virtual reality, a week later, half of them will believe that they swam with whales.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] Kids actually believe that they've done this.

JEREMY BAILENSON: Absolutely. About 50 percent of them will believe that in physical space, they actually went to Sea World and swam with whales.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Does that freak you out a little bit?

JEREMY BAILENSON: You know, people always ask me. A lot of the stuff that we do in the lab says that virtual experiences can profoundly affect you in wonderful and not so wonderful ways. These experiences are happening, and the world is rushing like a freight train towards digital stuff. I just see it as where we're going.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Undoubtedly, it is where we are going. And at the leading edge, is the U.S. military. Currently, they're using computer simulations to treat troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sergeant Gerald Della Salla did a year's tour in Iraq and is now being treated with virtual reality therapy at the Manhattan VA, one of over 40 centers around the country piloting the program.

Sgt. GERALD DELLA SALLA: That kind of pushed my stress level recently just with that last little- to 6.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It's still in clinical trials, but early results are encouraging.

Dr. MICHAEL KRAMER, Clinical psychologist: Under certain circumstances, their whole posture will change. They're leaning forward and they've got that gun, and you can see something's happening to them emotionally at that point.

Sgt. GERALD DELLA SALLA: That person on the bridge is firing. We're firing back at them. An ambush fire came around and we basically continued through it.

MICHAEL KRAMER: Anxiety rating?


MICHAEL KRAMER: Over time, their brain is able to say, "OK, this is uncomfortable, this is unpleasant, but it's not a life-threatening situation. I can tone down the level of anxiety and stress."

Anxiety rating?

Sgt. GERALD DELLA SALLA: It's good- 1.

MICHAEL KRAMER: Good work today, Gerry.

P.W. SINGER, Author, Wired for War: Technology is wrapped up in the story of war. You know, look at all the things that surround us, everything from the Internet to jet engines, these are all things where the military has been a driver for technology. And technology opens up new frontiers, new directions we can go in, but it also creates new dilemmas, new questions you need to answer.

RACHEL DRETZIN: [voice-over] One of those questions is what it means to wage a war when one side is on a physical battlefield and the other on a virtual one. From air-conditioned rooms on this Air Force base in the desert outside Las Vegas, pilots fly unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, that execute missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

1st DRONE PILOT: Other aircraft, airspace, altitude-

2nd DRONE PILOT: All right, looks like we're by ourselves out here in sector 3.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Airmen here are required to wear flight suits to work, even though they sit 7,500 miles away from the battlefield. It's one way of reminding these men that they're fighting a real war.

P.W. SINGER: Every so often, you have technologies that come along that rewrite the rules of the game, yet we don't talk about it because it's costless to us.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Drones have the capacity to strike with extraordinary precision and at no cost to American lives. The number of drones has multiplied in recent years, and the Pentagon is clamoring for more.

NOAH SHACHTMAN, Contributing Editor, Wired: The risks are all one-way. In today's wars right now, the pilot gets to do all the shooting and never gets shot at, and that creates a very different attitude than somebody who is both dealing out risk and is accepting risk.

Col. WILLIAM BRANDT, 432nd AEW, USAF: The biggest risk that we accept is that feeling of detachment from the aircraft. You need to be able to think through a three-dimensional problem that's located 7,500 miles away from you.

[to trainee class] It's a real, live aircraft, real, live weapons, doing a real mission-

I try to ensure that people understand there are people who are counting on us to do the mission.

You can fly in Afghanistan one day, and the very next day, you're flying in Iraq.

Though they're physically located here, they need to think in their mind that they are in theater because that's where the business end of that cockpit is.

You're no longer sitting at Creech Air Force base. Get in that mindset when you step into the GCS, you are in the fight.

TRAINEE: [MQ-1 Predator JTAC training mission] Like to confirm deadly, we have a single individual on the roof, on the north corner of that four-sided building.

RACHEL DRETZIN: The planes' cameras can surveil their targets from up to nine miles overhead.

TRAINEE: And looks like he may be employing weapons at this time.

CAPT. MIKE, 432nd AEW, USAF: One time, we had intel that there was a bad guy riding around on a motorcycle, if you will. And he was just riding around, and he stopped at two or three different playgrounds and he's playing soccer with all these kids, you know? And he's just- he's living his- he's doing his normal, everyday life. And then, you know, sure enough, at the end of that ride, though, we found him at a meeting of bad people, and it ended up resulting in a strike. So you end up seeing what happens.

NOAH SHACHTMAN: They do take a lot of care about civilian casualties. It is very much on their mind. But there's no way for them to really tell. All they see is the bomb going into that building and it blowing up. They don't necessarily see what happens afterwards. A drone can't dig through the rubble and see what the consequences of that Hellfire missile was. It can't.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Estimates vary as to the number of civilians killed in airstrikes in Afghanistan, and the U.S. and NATO forces don't publicly differentiate between manned and unmanned strikes in tracking civilian casualties. We asked one of the pilots about it.

CAPT. DAN, 432nd AEW, USAF: Yeah, I mean, everybody worries about things. All's you can do is, is you can make sure that you're prepared.

RACHEL DRETZIN: [on camera] So you don't think you've ever hit someone you haven't intended to hit?

Capt. DAN: No, no. I- I- no.

In the morning, when I come to work, I pray- I pray for strength, that God gives me strength, that he gives me wisdom. And if my focus is on God, then everything else in my life, I've found, falls into place, so-

P.W. SINGER: Going to war has meant the same thing for over 5,000 years. Going to war meant that you were going to a place where there was such danger that you might never come home again, you might never see your family again. Now compare that experience to that of a Predator drone pilot. You're sitting behind a computer screen, you're shooting missiles at enemy targets, you're killing enemy combatants. And then at the end of the day, you get back in your car, and 20 minutes later, you're at the dinner table talking to your kids about their homework.

Capt. DAN: You know, your family is not going to totally understand. You can't explain everything to them. That's a challenge in the job, that you've got to do that day in and day out.

P.W. SINGER: This disconnect of being at war and at home is very tough for the human mind to wrap itself around. And we're finding that some of these drone pilots actually have combat stress, and PTSD even, just like the units physically deployed into Iraq and Afghanistan.

RACHEL DRETZIN: To unwind, airmen stationed at the base come here to hang out and play video games.

Col. WILLIAM BRANDT: Our younger folks definitely have skill sets that some of the older guys like me didn't have the luxury of. They're definitely a technology generation. They already understand computers. It's almost intuitive for them.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Last year, the Air Force trained the first class of drone pilots who weren't required to have any previous flying experience.

NOAH SHACHTMAN: You know, do you need to do 100 push-ups if your job is to sit on your butt all day and program or watch a camera from 4,000 miles away? Do you necessarily need the same skills? You know, maybe you just need to be a good hacker and have a big butt so you can sit in a chair all day.

[ More on virtual combat]

RACHEL DRETZIN: In 2008, the Army closed five recruiting centers in the Philadelphia area and replaced them with this-

1st RECRUITER: How old are you?

BOY: 14

RACHEL DRETZIN: -the $13 million, 14,500-square-foot "Army Experience Center."

BOY: [playing game] Die!

RACHEL DRETZIN: Here, kids 13 and up can play on one of dozens of X-boxes and PC gaming stations for free.

RECRUITER: They are simulated rifles, they are not real rifles.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Recruiters mill about. They can't recruit kids under 17, but they're encouraged to chat with them and answer their questions.

2nd RECRUITER: Did you sign up for our tournaments?

BOY: I've done them before.

2nd RECRUITER: Did you win?

BOY: I won, like, two.

2nd RECRUITER: You won two? I think he's the best, man.

RACHEL DRETZIN: It's a soft sell, a 21st century approach to recruiting modeled in part on the Apple store.

Maj. LARRY F. DILLARD, Jr., U.S. Army: Here in the Army Experience Center, it's not the whole Army. It's not completely- you know, video games are never going to replicate the real thing. But it is a sampling experience to pique your interest and maybe, you know, encourage you to go learn more, just as Apple is trying to do.

BOY: [game] You killed him!

Capt. JARED AUCHEY, AEC, U.S. Army: We have what young Americans want and they like. They like video games, and that's why we're here.

NOAH SHACHTMAN: Look, the military understands that if it can't embrace today's digital youth, they are never going to recruit the kind of soldiers and the kind of airmen and the kind of Marines that they need to have for the next century.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Next to the gaming stations, the Army's built life-size simulators of Humvees and helicopters. Critics say that by placing these intense simulations of war in a recruiting environment, the Army is using the adrenaline rush to encourage kids to join up.

Pvt. JAMES MORRIS, U.S. Army: I've never seen a place like this before, so it caught my attention. I thought it was amazing. I came in for the two days to play video games, and I was, like, "I got to do something more than just play video games." So I talked to one of the recruiters, signed up for the Army, left in two weeks and don't regret my decision since.

PROTESTERS: Shame, shame, shame! War is not a game!

RACHEL DRETZIN: Protesters accuse the Army of blurring the lines between game and reality, virtual war and real war.

SUSAN KERIN: I'm a mother of a 13-year-old boy who absolutely loves video games, and I was really shocked that this is a recruitment tool that's being used by the military. I mean, there is no reset button in war.

Maj. LARRY DILLARD, Jr.: Certainly, video games are not like warfare. I think most kids are smart enough to understand that, that, you know, what's going on in Iraq is not virtual reality.

RACHEL DRETZIN: We asked some of the kids about that.

JARED: I really don't get confused. You know, it's just all fictional.

I killed you!

I mean, it's fun, but it's nothing like the real thing.

Oh, no way! You got sniped. How do you like it now?

RYAN: It's a video game. Doesn't make anybody want to shoot anybody, I don't think. Never did for me or any of my friends. Like, I don't think it's real. I don't think that that makes me want to go out there and do combat any more than anything else does.

KATIE SALEN, Dir. of Design, Quest to Learn: People talk about this distinction between the virtual world and the real world, and there's concern that there is an inability on the part of young people to separate the two.

I actually think that that distinction is a very adult idea, an idea that has come from a generation of people where virtual didn't exist and it was something new that was then added to the real world. But kids have that ability to move kind of seamlessly between the digital and the real.

RACHEL DRETZIN: Katie Salen writes about the theory and design behind video games. She's so convinced of the value of these games for kids that she helped create a New York City public school organized around them.

STUDENT: This is not an ordinary school. It's something new. This school is all about how we learn through games.

INSTRUCTOR: OK, so go to game label.

STUDENT: That's what we did last time, and it didn't work.

INSTRUCTOR: I know! There's bugs in this program, aren't there.


RACHEL DRETZIN: It's a radical model, using gaming as a lens for the entire curriculum, from geography to physics.

SCIENCE TEACHER: -a pair of forces that are equal and opposite. You have one minute.

KATIE SALEN: Games get us an incredibly engaging learning experience. Often, there's a comparison made between a kind of older culture of kids reading books and the ability to sit down and get through a 400-page novel and the fact that kids today are playing video games, which people think means they have attention deficit disorder, that they are not really doing things in a very deep way.

But that actually isn't the case. When kids are playing games, they are engaged in a way that's incredibly similar to when they're engaged in reading a book. And that game world is equally rich, I would argue, to many novels. What it comes down to, if you can't engage that kid in wanting to learn something, you really have a problem on your hands.

[ More on gaming and learning]

RACHEL DRETZIN: Not everyone agrees with her.

TODD OPPENHEIMER, Author, The Flickering Mind: You see schools where they say, "Look, kids are different. They come in today different, we have to play with them, otherwise we'll lose them. We have to meet them on their own terms."

It's complete hogwash. We've got to slow down and stop, and schools are one of the few institutions we have in our society where you can have a sustained conversation about something without being bombarded and distracted by all these machines. We have to protect that.

RACHEL DRETZIN: It may be too early to know the answer. We grew up in a world anchored in pages you turn. Maybe there is something these kids are getting that we aren't sure how to value yet.

MARC PRENSKY, Founder & CEO, Games2train: You know, there were people who complained when we moved from horses to cars. There were people who complained when we moved from letters to the telephone. And it's not that they're wrong totally because things get lost. So you might have less memory. We don't have as flowery writing. But we gain other things. And life moves on.

RACHEL DRETZIN: And as we move on, I wonder what we'll hold onto and what we'll end up leaving behind.

Prof. SHERRY TURKLE, MIT Initiative on Technology and Self: Technology challenges us to assert our human values, which means that, first of all, we have to figure out what they are. That's not so easy. Technology isn't good or bad, it's powerful and it's complicated. Take advantage of what it can do. Learn what it can do. But also ask, "What is it doing to us?" We're going to slowly, slowly find our balance, but I think it's going to take time.

RACHEL DRETZIN: [on camera] These are your students?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Yeah, but sometimes it's more like I'm their student.

[voice-over] Digital technology continues to extend into every area of our lives, yet the people developing these tools seem to be doing so with less regard for how we'll be affected in the future than how we might be influenced in the present.

But when you stand back and just look a while, it becomes clear that people will take almost any technology and use it to express themselves, to find other people, to remake the world on their own terms.

[on camera] So I guess that means you can still count me among the believers. I love the possibilities of a digital life. I love being able to experience the world through other people's eyes. I love being able to broadcast a story across the country from home in my underpants. I love being able to imagine almost any possible future and to do so with other people, millions of them, right alongside me.

But most of all, I love being able to turn it off.


Rachel Dretzin

Douglas Rushkoff &
Rachel Dretzin

Douglas Rushkoff
Rachel Dretzin

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ANNOUNCER: This report continues on FRONTLINE's Web site. Watch more of the personal stories from hundreds of contributors. And please send us your stories, dive into a year's worth of reporting on digital life, read extended interviews, check out Douglas Rushkoff's ongoing conversations with experts and the public, watch the program on line and join the discussion at

Next time on FRONTLINE, how inexperienced pilots-

JOHN PRATER, Pres., Air Line Pilots Assn.: They wanted to find a way of getting rid of that expensive employee.

ANNOUNCER: -and cutting corners on safety-

COREY HEISER, Colgan pilot, 2005-'09: We didn't move those airplanes, they didn't make any money.

ANNOUNCER: -and inadequate regulation-

MARY SCHIAVO, Fmr. Inspector General, Dept. of Transportation: The FAA protects airlines.

ANNOUNCER: -led to a tragic crash that exposed the risks-

SCOTT MAURER, Father of Crash Victim: There are no survivors.

ANNOUNCER: -of Flying Cheap. Watch FRONTLINE.

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