Media Literacy for Today

Posted On December 1, 2008

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It has been clearly established that young people are engaging with the internet in many different ways. Communicating with peers, playing games and researching school projects are among the most common internet pastimes for school-age children. Young people have appropriated the internet and digital technology into the lives, but this cannot be taken for granted. Children’s use of digital technology brings with it some legitimate concerns. Too often parents assume the technological expertise of their children when they are not nearly as proficient as their parents believe them to be. Not all youth are technological prodigies and familiar with all of the ins and outs of digital technology.

            The danger of defining media literacy is that its porous nature makes its meaning difficult to pin down. With the media constantly in flux, its literacy can never be static. Therefore, parents assume their children are media literate, but in fact, they are usually unaware of the motives behind the websites and material they are using (Livingstone, 9). This is problematic because the majority of these young users are surfing the internet as a means to gather legitimate research information. Moral panics concerning overt hate speech aside, there is a real danger of youth stumbling upon cloaked racist websites when they are searching for civil rights information (Daniels, 140). For example, www.martinlutherking.org is a white supremacist website disguised to show up on a Google as a potentially trustworthy source. This is worrisome because the incompetence of children to detect the intention of the websites they are viewing might prevent some from realizing the racist nature of cloaked websites. With the 21 million youth hooked up to the internet in the United-States, the number of school children who could be influenced by this kind of material is staggering (Daniels, 130). Youth need to be taught to examine content more critically and to be aware of the way messages can be disguised by those who know how to manipulate others.

            Also, parents are quick to jump to gun on believing their child’s almost innate comfort around technology. This idea is entirely false, especially when considering young girls. As Mary Celeste Kearney explains, video production technology is an area that has been traditionally dominated by males and women/girls do not usually have the confidence to take control over production in the same way men have always felt entitled to (114). I think girls-only initiatives like Latinitas and It’s a She Shoot are important to give young girls the opportunity to learn about the media through producing their own content. This is an effective way in removing girls from the way the media has framed them as victims and placing them in a headspace where they feel they are able to accomplish making their own media productions as well as expressing gender-specific issues without feeling pressure from the opposite sex. Perhaps it would be a good idea for the girls from the Concordia Communication Department to start a similar kind of workshop for young girls in Montreal. Media literacy cannot be taken as something that is easy to acquire and it is important to know that equal opportunities are not available to everyone.

            At length, youth, especially girls, are often under informed when it comes to knowledge about the media and media production. Parents must avoid over generalizing their child’s capabilities and educators must teach students how to look the media and its intentions more critically. In a world where we are inundated with mediated images and content, this kind of information literacy seems paramount or we risk living in a world where the potential for youth to be misinformed and manipulated will only grow as technology becomes even more pervasive. In order to understand the media, you have to be as much a part of creating it as you are of consuming its messages.

Democracy Online

Posted On November 22, 2008

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I think we have moved beyond the point in our society where the common saying was, “children should be seen and not heard”. Youth have more opportunity to express themselves than ever before and this is due in large part to a phenomenon they have so wholeheartedly embraced and grown up with, digital technology.  The fundamental nature of the Internet is very participatory. Created on the basis network neutrality, anyone who has a computer and is able to connect to the Internet should have the right to gain access to its wealth of information. Blogs, social networking sites, online streaming venues are all part of what youth have appropriated to be able to express themselves and communicate with others. What they have yet to realize, or only some have already, is that the Internet and other digital technologies can be used to become important civil participants in society.

            Organizations such as Rock the Vote, that formed to encourage the youth vote in the presidential election of 2004, are tuned in to the youth zeitgeist because they recruit the civic involvement of young people through mediums that they use every day. However, it is not always easy to grasp the interest of a market that is cynical and distrustful of politics in general. According to W. Lance Bennett, the majority of youth as dissatisfied with the political situation and do not trust mainstream media outlets as a means of gathering valuable information (1-2). Gone is the generation of the dutiful citizen and the belief that voting is the most fundamental democratic act. Bennett describes youth today as actualizing citizens, where civic engagement is based more on personal expression, volunteering and community work (14).  In looking at engaged youth through the scope of this profound generational shift, it is easy to understand why the percentage of actively engaged youth might be so low. If the majority of politicians and adults are functioning under the dutiful citizen model, unable to recognize young people’s new form democratic involvement, how can youth feel that they are making meaningful contributions to the political discourse?

            If youth are to become civically engaged on the long-term, it is necessary for the government and ‘adults’ to take their opinions and their breed of involvement seriously. It is clear that youth are not passive consumers of media. “Digital natives” have the ability to appropriate technology for their own benefit and become involved in their various communities through social networking sites. For example, blogging has become a new form of political expression for youth. I am not particularly interested in politics, but even I have learned about civic causes and groups I could join through Facebook.  Social networking, as Howard Rheingold explains, is a way for youth to engage in public life, which is essential before entering political life is possible (102). If networking mediums online are how youth chose to enter public life as a gateway to political life, then it has to be taken seriously as a form of civic engagement, otherwise youth will never move forward politically in the eyes of society.

            The acceptance of young people’s way of being engaged needs to come from the top down. Educators must be more receptive to the opinions of young people and allow them to express themselves in the classroom. Olivia states in Holly Wagg’s article, that she does not feel she has the opportunity to have her voice heard at school, “‘It’s good ‘cause you normally you don’t get to say what you want to say, or think about anything, like political issues or anything like that in the class. They’ll be like, teachers, ‘I don’t want to hear about that right now’…’” (274). So, how can youth feel like they are welcome to participate in conventional forms of civic engagement if they cannot even feel included in the school environment? Therefore, it is obvious that youth have turned to a form of involvement that they have adapted all to themselves. Radio programs such as Anything Goes, as well as will.i.am’s inspirational political statements through music, take the way youth have become engaged and turn it into something valid and respected. This has to be the case everywhere before youth feel that they are welcome to participate in all forms of civic life instead of only those that they have been born into.

Omnipotent Media and Technology

Posted On November 11, 2008

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Digital technology, if we can’t seriously say that it hasn’t already, is going to take over the world. Once controlled by government dollars and obscure academics, technological advances have recently been transferred into the hands of the consumer. This new, entrepreneurial stance on technologies and the media have turned passive consumers into active producers, responsible for the consequences of their actions. As more agency is accorded to the consumer, the more prevalent digital media and technology will become, until they permanently sew themselves in to the complex fabric that makes up how we see reality.

It seems to me, that far too much importance is placed on the need for digital media and technology in the classroom than is necessary. Ellen Seiter’s report is a good testimony on how technology can both advance and hinder learning in the school environment. The after-school workshop that Seiter set up with her students was severely compromised when the introduction of new computers with the Internet distracted the students beyond expectation. Instead of working together and showing active interest in writing newspaper articles concerning issues relevant to their community, the students became enthralled by celebrity news stories (namely the WWF) easily retrievable on the Internet. Seiter quotes Bromley by saying that computers have become a symbol for the “quality of education in a given community” (104). However, what can be said about the quality of education students are getting when computers prompt them to easily run off-task? It is true that access to technology is necessary to function in today’s world, but at what cost? Are the children really getting any better of an education by schools panning out tons of money that they do not have on computers that become obsolete as day passes into night? I remember being in high school and working on Macintosh computers from the early 1990s. The technology was light years out of date yes, but I still learned how to type and I am no further behind today than those who were working on the most up to date machines. Computers in schools have become more of a status symbol of scholarly affluence, than of true, well-rounded education.

Also, the idea of technology and the media being omnipotent stretches far beyond the school environment. I find Mizuko Ito’s definition of media mix and how it affects children to be quite intriguing. Games such as Yu-Gi-Oh! turned into comic books, turned into television shows, turned into movies, turned into video games are quite commonplace. Cross marketing is not a new notion. Yet, the difference today is that not just children, but adults have a hand in creating the narratives of these media. For example, otaku, even though generally frowned upon, go on special searches for rare Yu-Gi-Oh! cards as well as create and sell fan fiction comic books. As Ito explains, some people can even earn a living buying and selling playing cards alone. Things that were once the stuff of fantasy are now becoming a means of the way some people run their daily lives, and I can’t seem to decide if I think this is good or bad. How real does fantasy have to be for it to be too real?

At length, the democratization of technology is really inspiring. There is a sense that everyone can do it. Amateurs can learn programming (e.g. Fanning and Napster) and fans can become involved in the creation of their favourite games/books. Yet, with this come new consequences. The same people who use these technologies can go to jail for doing so (i.e. downloading music). So I suppose my point is that if you want to have computers in the classroom, expect distractions, it is inevitable when WWF is just a click away. Technology is wonderful, but there needs to be some perspective on when it is needed and when it is not.

Communication Breakdown

Posted On November 3, 2008

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Sometimes I wish I could take my cell phone and smash it into little pieces, but I can’t. There is something about the tiny device that lures me in, keeps me attached. Reading these articles, I could not help myself from thinking, “This is me! This is me!” and I think this might be the consensus for many. Quite plainly, we have become mobile phone obsessed.

            The mobile phone is simultaneously a blessing and curse, though perhaps more of a curse. There is certainly no doubt that popular use of the mobile phone has been an enormous convenience. Stuck in traffic? No problem, just pick up your phone and make a quick call to warn the waiting party. Gitte Stald explains that, “The portability of the mobile phone makes it possible for the user to access and exchange information independent of place, of physical location, while being on the move (154). Essentially, it does not matter where you are; you can always reach others and be reached. Yet, it is when new technologies, meant to increase the efficiency of our interactions, stimulate some kind of strange psychological compulsion that concern is warranted. This concern is especially significant when directed towards youth. The fact is, that while Japanese youth seem to be almost obsessive users of their mobile phones, they are really not that different from the other youth in the mobilized world.

            Rich Ling argues that the mobile phone has become indispensable to the way youth communicate with their peer groups. Peer groups are often geographically dispersed; therefore some form of mediated communication is needed to maintain contact (Ling, 61). The home telephone did the trick for a while, but this was subject to too much parental regulation and control. After all, what young person wants to be relentlessly teased and tormented when his/her parents discover that a member of the opposite sex has been calling for him/her? All kidding aside however, the mobile phone has accorded youth a certain amount of agency to communicate freely with their peers. Mizoko Ito claims that this is true for young couples, who can use mobile technology to communicate discretely under the watchful radar of their parents (6). In this sense, it is clear that mobile phones do play into the developmental independence of youth.

Yet, this new found, seemingly private form of communication, embodies quite a contradiction. What began as a novelty has been twisted into a full-out invasion of privacy. Youth are addicted to their mobiles, experience separation anxiety when they turn them off and can’t imagine life without one. Gitte Stald explains that, “… they cannot imagine not having their mobiles, not being constantly in contact, contactable and informed” (146).  When did this happen? When did young people become so fixated with having to be always reachable? The mobile has transformed from an efficient form of communication into a stressful tracking device. The youth interviewed in many of these articles express anxiety of missing a call or a text message from a friend if their mobiles are turned off. Personally, I find the constant knowledge that someone could call me when I don’t feel like being reached equally stressful and not to mention the guilt that ensues from screening a call. Truthfully, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be unreachable, but if this is okay, why can I never turn off my mobile? Why do some youth actually go to sleep with their cell phones next to their heads so they can take calls in the middle of the night? Does no one realize that there is something wrong with this? If it is commonly agreed that a cause of stress is being always in contact with others, then why is being shutting off every once and awhile so frowned upon?

In a world that functions at hyper speed, it seems natural to be plugged into the grid 24/7. Strangely however, all this facilitated connectedness has isolated us somehow. Have we really come that far when we no longer make eye contact with each other on the street or on the bus because we are all in our own worlds, headphones jammed in our ears and texting to someone miles away? Or when special rules have to be made to ban mobile use on public transportation? For all the convenience technology brings, I can’t see how measuring your worth by the contents of your SIM card can do much good.

The not so Anonymous Internet

Posted On October 22, 2008

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            When did the Internet become such a scary place? After reading these articles, what I once though to be a relatively safe, excellent resource for information, I am now beginning to realize is all a farce, and quite a terrifying farce at that. I am an active participant in social networking sites and I have a Facebook account. Where is all of my personal information going? Who is going to be able to track me down and distribute information about me, possibly forever?

 

            The way in which websites directed towards youth operate is deceitful and disturbing. Many members of social networking sites, namely Facebook, believe that they are knowledgeable and confident about the privacy settings afforded to them by such sites and that they are able to maintain a certain level of control over their personal information (Shade, 72). Yet, are they really and do they really know what they’re doing? I know I wasn’t fully aware of the consequence of ‘oversharing’, as Emily Gould puts it, on the Internet. Truth be told, being unknowingly tagged in photographs is a lot more than irritating. Even though you might be able to limit which other users can see your profile information, what you put out on the Internet leaves a long lasting fingerprint. Facebook accounts are not easy to delete and even after users have deactivated their accounts, their profiles are still floating around somewhere in Facebook cyberspace, available to advertisers and to whoever else Facebook might feel like revealing the information (Feinberg, 76). In this sense, does privacy really exist anymore? What can we say about a society that preys on young girls who innocently fill out fun quizzes at their favourite magazine’s website and as a result, unknowingly volunteer their personal information to marketers and advertisers who can record and follow everything about them and then target them with personalized ads (Steeves, 175)? Or of a society that allows websites like Beer.com to advertise beer and erotic content to underage boys? It’s sick and that fact that all of these activities are carried out so covertly, disguised to be so seamlessly innocuous, is living proof.

            Over-exposure on the Internet can ruin someone’s life. Emily Gould took a turn for the worse when she became involved in excessive blogging online. Her job consumed her life and what began as an innocent form of self-expression, turned into a serious case of misrepresentation. If children are becoming increasingly naturalized to sharing their personal information online and to constantly being monitored, what will happen when they reach the age when the consequences or such actions can become much more serious? When a compromising photograph on Facebook can mean losing your job?  Acts like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 are clearly not effective at even scratching the surface of these issues (Steeves 181). Privacy controls are too easy to circumvent. A child can simply lie about their age to gain access to a website that would otherwise require parental permission and there is no reasonable way of authenticating this information (Steeves 182). Children need to know what they are doing when they are bypassing parental controls and parents need to be informed in order to be able to explain these dangers to their children. Yet, how is this possible is a capitalist-driven environment where these kinds of personal invasions a turning a profit? Thinking you understand the way in the Internet and data collection works is one thing and actually knowing how it works is another. Attention must be paid to this situation before the ethical distinction between the private and the public sphere disappears.

 

 

 

Wasting Time Online? Maybe Not.

Posted On October 18, 2008

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A Funny Parody on Teens attachment to Social Networking

The incredible popular insurgence of social networking sites might lead one to believe that everyone who’s anyone is on Facebook. Emerged from the tradition of online dating sites, social networking sites such as Friendster, Myspace and Facebook have become essential to the way teenagers manage their social lives and while all teens might not use one of these sites themselves, they certainly are very knowledgeable on the subject. Much debate has arisen due to the popularity of these sites and many parents believe that social networking on the Internet is a waste of their child’s time. While this might be true, social networking sites do foster some important aspects of identity development. Also, social networking and user interactive sites are being used outside the teen communication realm to promote some good. The underground hip hop movement use their websites to spread the word about important social issues and Native communities in Ontario have developed their own online social network to keep in touch with family members over long distances.

            It seems to me that teen use of social networking websites is essentially a transposition of the way teen social interaction works in the physical world. According to danah boyd, social networking sites as we know them today became popular to youth when their favourite bands began using websites like Myspace to keep in touch with their fans (boyd, 122). Eventually, teens realized that they could not only use these sites to keep up to date with their favourite music artists, but also to communicate with their offline friends (122). Social network memberships then became a status symbol and teens now jazz up their profiles and add certain friends in order to appear ‘cool’. Much like being accepted in to the most popular clique in high school, friend lists on Myspace or Facebook have begun to resonate in the real world. This is where the time wasting factor comes in to play for some. Teens spend hours surfing around on these networks to combat boredom. Social voyeurism, as boyd explains, is a new way to pass the time (127). Instead of loitering around the corner store, teens are lurking and loitering around social networking sites.

The social voyeurism aspect of social networking is the only issue that I find worrisome. Boyd mentions the idea of invisible audiences when dealing with online networks (126). While there are privacy settings to adjust your profile, there still is really no guarantee of being able to tell who exactly is looking at all of your information. Also, with the idea of persistence, invisible audiences can go back and look at your profile and messages as many times as they like (126). However, even though this can be dangerous, teen interaction with the visible audiences on these sites are beneficial. Teenagers learn how to perform their identity much like they would offline. Young people are able to create profiles, display a certain side of themselves, see how it is interpreted and then adjust their image accordingly (boyd, 128). This is an important lesson in learning how to manage identity since teens have access to so many different kinds of audiences online. Also, teens learn how their representations can be misinterpreted by various audiences (boyd, 129). Therefore, social networking for teens is not all bad and a certain amount of benefits can be gained from their use.

Despite the controversy surrounding adolescent use of social networking sites, their sheer popularity is an indicator that they are successful in what they are designed to do – networking. So much so that Native communities in Ontario literally built their social network from the ground up during the computerization movement (Bell, Budka and Fisher, 9). Now, MyKnet.org is used across Aboriginal communities on Northern Ontario where the vast distances between settlements and the isolation of the villages make communication difficult. Here, social networking is not a popularity contest, nor is it a goldmine for marketing information, MyKnet.org is a way for these native communities to keep in touch with loved ones and to seek out potentially long lost relatives. The sheer determination shown by these communities in literally writing their own social network in to being shows how important and beneficial this new technology can be.

Social networking on the Internet is simply another case of walking the line between the moral panics, legitimate criticisms and legitimate support. Despite their dangers, social networking websites have opened the door for adolescents to learn about themselves and for communities across great distances to keep in touch. Furthermore, underground hip hop artists and record labels can now use the Internet to distribute music that mainstream record labels find too controversial. Therefore, it is now possible for intelligent dissent to enter the music community and teens can learn social activism through a medium with which they are already familiar (Guins). The Internet has become to way of the future and social networking the new way of learning, interacting, creating and criticizing.

Youth, Identity and the Internet

Posted On October 9, 2008

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It no longer needs to be stated that children and other youth have become the most avid consumers of digital media and new technology. Countless studies have been conducted concerning the negative aspects of media and the Internet on our youth. What are less frequently addressed however, are the positive effects of such technologies and the enriched learning experience they can provide. It is important to step back from the atmosphere of moral panics surrounding new technology and realize that digital media is always going to walk the razor between safe/unsafe and inclusion/exclusion. This only means that greater emphasis must be placed on understanding both ends of the spectrum. Do the opportunities of these new technologies outweigh the risks they inevitably pose and if so, what are these opportunities?

            According to Sonia Livingston, the Internet is partly responsible for fostering a more democratic environment in the home. Children are now accorded more agency because their technological ‘expertise’ often exceeds that of their parents (Livingston, 223). While this presents its own set of risks (parents can no longer keep are close tabs on the activities of their children and possibly less family interaction in the home), the Internet has given youth a new outlet in which they are able to express themselves more freely than in the physical world. Many of the researchers conducting studies on this phenomenon have not grown up with this technology, making it difficult to grasp what kind of impact it truly has on young people’s lives (Weber and Mitchell, 26). In as much as classroom interaction is important to development and learning, digital media has become central to learning and identity formation for many young people.

            Adolescence is a key period in which identity is shaped. It is a time of transition between the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood when teens are questioning where and how the might fit in, in the future. As Weber and Mitchell explain, digital media is constantly changing and is as fluid as the youth identity process (Weber and Mitchell, 26-27). Old technologies get mixed in with new ones, much like young people draw from a number of different media in order to create their own digital projects (Weber and Mitchell, 27). In this sense, how digital media mirrors youth’s own identity process creates an interesting environment from which young people are able to learn. Youth are able to explore and choose which sides of themselves they want to present, as with web blogs and personal web pages. As Buckingham cites, this is part of an aspect of performative identity (Buckingham, 6). Youth are able to experiment with different facets of themselves without have to necessarily direct and immediate responses of repercussions.

            For any alarmist who might jump the gun claiming that digital media is detrimental to youth and calm down. The ‘digital generation’ are becoming far more democratic and creative through exposure to this technology (Buckingham, 13). The Internet has opened new doors for young people, giving them a new set of tools to contribute to the many other factors that already make up their identity – clothes, literacy, the physical body etc. (Weber and Mitchell, 42). Digital media and the Internet provide an outlet for youth to negotiate these different factors and explore how they see them fitting in to their lives. There are dangers, like exposure to predators, pornography and privacy infringement, but there are just as many threats when you exit your front door in the morning. The use of digital technology in frightening because it is new and constantly changing, but is adolescence not the same thing? Youth, like digital technology and everything else that was new at one point in time, raises questions because it is uncharted territory. This does not qualify it as good or bad, but calls for a media literacy equally aware of all of the opportunities and risks technology entails. We have entered an age where instead of panicking over the unknown, we must learn from it because digital technology is here to stay.

The Child Consumer, Another Moral Panic?

Posted On October 2, 2008

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             It has been clear for quite some time that advertising to children and children’s merchandise has become a very lucrative market. I am not sure if I agree with the idea that marketing to children robs them of the ‘essence’ of their childhood, preventing them from simply being kids as in the days of old. Rather, I am more inclined to side with David Buckingham’s suggestion that a less critical standpoint must be taken when considering child consumerism. While children are not immune to the effects of advertising, it does not brainwash them into being blind consumers.

           

I remember growing up as a child my basement was a virtual Barbie universe. I had everything from Barbie’s Dream House to Barbie’s grocery story (and I am not even going to delve into the laundry basket full of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I still have stored away somewhere). Having the latest and hottest toys was important to me, so in that sense I did buy into marketing, but I can’t say that Barbie robbed me of my soul. In fact, I have fond memories of going to the toy store with my parents. I did not want everything single thing that came out, but I had my favourites and stuck to those. You could say that I was a selective consumer.

           

The main difference in being a child today (and I always think of my little cousins as an example) is that the same kind of advertising that I was exposed to is all the more pervasive. Whereas I had to flip through the Toysr’us catalogue to look at the latest Barbie stuff, children today can play Barbie dress-up on the Internet (I have to admit that even I went to www.barbiegirls.com and made my own character). I do not think though that the prevalence of marketing in children’s lives should be cause for panic, just ask the children interviewed by Rebekah Willet, who were able to recognize that the doll maker websites they were visiting were fantasy and did not bear any representation of real people or real bodies. It does affect them in some way, but I do not believe that it leave any lifelong scars. Also, I remember being able to flop back and forth between Ninja Turtles and jump rope without any grief about breaching the boundaries of my gender construction.

           

However, there have been instances when major corporations have targeted the child market with popular brands and cultural icons and have caused a more than acceptable level of hysteria. Much like the crisis in Beijing over the McDonald’s Snoopy dolls, I remember when Tickle Me Elmo and Furby came out parents were tackling each other in the isles trying to get these really annoying toys for their kids in time for the holidays. It is important to note though, that these incidents are definitely not the norm and most of the time children and adults a like can control themselves.

           

As is mentioned in Beryl Langer’s article, I think that more attention should be paid to the conditions in which these toys are manufactured than the marketing techniques causing children to want them. Children are certainly being encouraged to consume, there is no question, but what about the children who are making the stuff only the privileged kids are able to access? I think that this issue overshadows the McDonald’s logos peppered through Neopets and other interactive sites where children do actually gain some social and community benefits. It is important to children to be media literate and understand when they are being overtly targeted, but human rights concerns in the toy industry should take precedence as cause for alarm.  

Moral Panics as Fabricated Hysteria

Posted On September 25, 2008

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This week’s readings centred on the idea and the history of moral panics. More closely dealt with were the issues surrounding youth delinquency and the anxiety of young girls’ access to technology. After having read these articles, I can only come to one conclusion: moral panics are not meant to be taken seriously. It is not to say that they are not based on some form of truth or fact, but truth so wildly blown out of proportion that it has lost all of its grounding in reality.

            According to the article, “Rethinking ‘moral panic’ for multi-mediated social worlds”, issues surrounding deviant youth is really nothing new. The article goes on to explain that the way youth deviancy has been sensationalized throughout history has only served to perpetuate this kind of behaviour as subcultures do not feel the need to respect a society they are not allowed to be a part of (McRobbie and Thornton, 561). In short, every generation has had its own share moral panics, whether it was the hippies of the 60s or the punks of the 80s. Yet, if old moral panics are constantly being replaced by new ones and the past is drawn on with nostalgia as a period when youth was well behaved, then how can we say moral panics every really existed or are ever really valid?  There will always be a new social issue to distort completely and as soon as this happens, the scandal of yesterday will be forgotten about as quickly as it came.

            It seems to me, at least today, that moral panics are primarily used as publicity schemes, a sure way to make a fast buck. If a newspaper can ensure its circulation quota by slapping a controversial headline on its front page and if the targeted subversive groups can make money by fighting back through their own publications (mainly youth magazines) and the media benefits from good, “balanced” reporting, moral panics are clearly favourable to all parties involved. Meanwhile, marketers are salivating over all of the ways they can advertise their products to youth with the latest shock factor (McRobbie and Thornton, 268-370). How can the public allow themselves to be caught up in what is clearly a financial goldmine? Of course important issues are sometimes touched on and NBC’s To Catch a Predator specials do raise some serious Internet dangers, but there is usually far more than meets the eye. If the majority of children and young girls do not respond to online solicitation and are in greater danger of being molested by their next-door neighbour than an Internet pedophile, then the whole world should really pay closer attention to statistics and legitimate studies surrounding these so-called “moral panics” (Cassell and Cramer, 58). Moral panics do stem from actual concerns, but it is becomes worrisome when fighting over the scandal du jour eclipses the real dangers at hand.      

Baby Einstein or Baby Couch Potato?

Posted On September 16, 2008

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While considering the media-saturated world in which we live, I began to wonder, what on earth is eventually to become of our brains? I find the statistics on children and the consequences of their consumption of various forms of media rather alarming. Not to say that I have been ignorant to the fact as I can attest to my own six-year-old cousin boasting a television set in his bedroom, complete with a DVD player so he can watch and re-watch is favourite episodes of Pokémon, but I never seriously considered the reality of hyper media consumerism in children or the pervasiveness of this phenomenon.

According to the Wartella and Robb article, 43% children under one year of age are reported to watch television on a daily basis and this percentage only increases as the child grows older (36). Now I ask, how can a child of nine months possibly benefit from being plunked in front of a television set? When I was a child, I remember being promptly shipped outside by my mother to play with the other children on the street (evidently, this was not forced upon me at nine months of age). Television was a strictly night time activity and usually always a family event. I did not even own a computer until I entered high school. At young ages, children learn about the world by physically touching and exploring their environment, they do not gain much from looking at television screen when their ability to process mentally or internally represented information has not yet reached maturity (Wartella and Robb, 38). If your child has trouble falling asleep at night, read him a bedtime story, it might help to combat the dropping literacy rate of children who live in media heavy households.

It is important that the research being done on the effects of screen media on children’s development be more vigorously broadcast. What can we say about critical learning, experience and family life if these children morph into adolescents who lock themselves in their hi-tech bedrooms, hunched over a computer for hours on end? The media is an important source of communication, but when children are spending more time surfing the web and watching Baby Einstein than interacting with their families and the physical world, we have to wonder if we are only hurting ourselves in the end.