Hello world.

Andrea Tomkins

My name is Andrea Tomkins and I am the new MediaSmarts Mom. I am thrilled to be in this space and sharing my first post with you today.

I am sitting here, writing this, thinking about what a weird and wonderful world we are living in right now. It’s astounding to think about what a huge impact technology has had on our society - and on parenting.

My interest in media comes naturally. I pretty much grew up in my parent’s TV and electronics store. My first job was to manage the video rental counter. When business was slow I watched movie, after movie, after movie… but my main job was to check movies in and out and dust the shelves. Our family store was one of the only places people could rent a VCR. Those newfangled machines were expensive, bulky things that came in a heavy padded case. They were horribly awkward to carry anywhere, but the effort was worth it. To be able to watch a movie at home was amazing. To record something to watch later, a near miracle.

We were the first family on our block to own a personal computer. It was a Commodore Vic-20 and it was a pretty big deal. I can’t recall what games we played but I do remember tinkering with some very basic programming. To be able to display an endless loop of any text I wanted (“HELLO WORLD”) was almost akin to having my very own superpower.

And then came the Intellivision. This acquisition was also a first among my friends. As a kid I probably spent more time playing video games than I did board games. Looking back, it’s incredible to think about how much they have evolved, isn’t it? We’ve gone from this:

… to this:

When I was a kid, jetpacks, flying cars, and videophones were hallmarks of The Future. Today, Facetime, Skype, and Google Hangout are a reality, and they’ve changed the way we communicate. (I’m STILL waiting for jetpacks and flying cars.) And in terms of publishing, that looping HELLO WORLD can now extend far outward, to the real world, to a degree that I never could have imagined as a kid. A message can now reach millions of people in the form of a photo, a Facebook post, or a video shared on YouTube.

As the author of a blog that’s been online since 1999 (which makes me either a pioneer or a dinosaur, I’m not quite sure which), I have come to realize that I am essentially my own publisher. What’s more, a lot of my writing and consulting work takes place almost entirely online. Without Internet access I’d be a ship without a sail. It’s integral to my daily work and family life, but the question is, how do we, as parents, integrate all of this wonderful technology into our lives in a balanced kind of way? How do we help our children think critically about marketing and social networking, and make smart decisions in an age when anything we do can reach an international audience faster than ever before?

I truly believe that in today’s media-rich environment, teaching kids about media literacy is as important as teaching them how to read and write. We no longer live in a world where there’s one phone in the kitchen and one household TV with a handful of channels on it. Bullying is no longer confined to the schoolyard, and the newspaper is no longer the only place to get the story.

I don’t profess to be an expert, but as a critical media consumer and parent of tweenage kids (11 and 13), I can offer up our own hard-earned experiences and let you know what’s worked for our family. There are a lot of resources on the MediaSmarts website too, and they are a great way for parents to kickstart informed discussions about wide-ranging topics such as body image, gender representation, privacy, and copyright… and I hope to bring those to the forefront in future posts.

And that’s where YOU come in. I consider every blog post to be a starting point for a greater dialogue, and I hope that you will share your thoughts and experiences too.