When teen-agers are online they use the time to develop friendship and to gain knowledge on subjects that interest them, according to a significant new study funded by the MacArthur Foundation that was released in November.
“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online,” said Mizuko Ito, University of California, Irvine researcher and the report’s lead author. “There are myths about kids spending time online – that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”While I am still somewhat weirded out by blogging, teens, and those younger, see the internet as an extension of themselves. Marshall McLuhan envisioned this, but even though I thought his idea was cool many years ago, I had difficult understanding it. But now I can see tweens chatting on Club Penguin and playing in much the same way that they do during recess or on a playground. They still interact creatively, but CP and other spaces like it gives them another dimension for hanging out.
I also posted a comment today on ReadWriteWeb about a new book that suggests kids don't have to memorize any more. I noted that kids have to memorize still. Memorization is an integral part of learning; it's one of several parts. To assume that you're always going to have the web handy is to become used to a crutch. You have to know basic math facts, basic history dates, etc. Memorization does not have to be hard. In fact, I have found recently that it's actually pretty easy for kids, especially with good motivation.
Coming back to the MacArthur study, I think it is just the beginning of understanding how technology is changing how kids learn and use new media for pulling together their ideas. But I don't think that, at this point, technology can significantly change how our brains work. They're still good for memorizing. And they're still pliable to try out something new to be used for experiences we're always seeking as humans: friendships, comfort, attainable challenges.