The classic 1985 science fiction novel Ender’s Game is one of several books of that period that foresaw both the advent of the Internet and its eventual importance in society. While certain aspects of its portrayal seem dated – in particular, it more resembles the text-based bulletin board systems of the time than today’s graphic Web – one element stands out as being particularly prescient: the use of the Internet to allow youth to participate fully in society. While today’s young people aren’t using the Internet to take over the world, as the characters in the novel do, they are increasingly using it to change the world, and more and more teachers are using the Internet to bring civic engagement into the classroom.
Just a short while ago, concern with online predators was so dominant that anyone trying to draw attention to the problem of cyberbullying felt like a voice in the wilderness. In the last few years, though, new research has not only provided a more realistic picture of the risks of online sexual solicitation; but has also raised awareness on the severity of cyberbullying. Unfortunately, all of the media attention that is now focused on cyberbullying runs the risk of making public perceptions on this issue as narrow and inaccurate as they were towards online predation.
For parents, this time of year can feel like walking through a minefield, with ads, decorations and music all aimed at getting kids excited about Christmas. Every year children eagerly ask Santa for the “hottest,” “must-have” toys – and then turn that “pester power” on their parents.
Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker article “Small Change” has set the blogosphere buzzing with its strongly stated argument that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter will not usher in a new age of social activism, as some digital evangelists have proposed, but that they and the relationships they foster are actually detrimental to real social change. As Gladwell puts it, “The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.”
If anyone still doubts that youth need to learn how to evaluate online information, those doubts should have been dispelled by a recent hoax perpetrated by the group called the Yes Men. This group, which has a history of staging fake press conferences, decided to draw attention to Canada’s position at the Copenhagen conference on climate change by creating a number of fake Web sites purporting to be, among others, the Copenhagen summit site, the Wall Street Journal, and Environment Canada’s site. While it didn’t take long for Environment Canada to make a statement exposing the hoax, by that time many journalists had reported the story as fact and the story had been widely distributed by wire services.