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  Teen Tech Tales  
Posted 2006-03-29 by Tony Walsh
The Global Kids group aims to groom America's urban youth for global citizenry, and, through its Digital Media Initiative, explores how technology is affecting the first "digital" generation of teens. Global Kids recently announced the winners of its Digital Media Essay Contest, after having launched Global Kids Island in the Teen-exclusive version of Second Life, a growing virtual world.

"The idea was to give the competition entrants from Teen Second Life an environment in which to learn about some of the issues around the essay contest, as well as actually submitting their essays within the virtual world rather than just mailing them off to NYC," writes Ian Young, a member of The Magicians, the team that built the island's features.

So, what are some of America's teens saying about their relationship with digital technology?

In the grand-prize-winning essay "Thanks, Uncle Ben," Mike L. of Ohio writes "We have all the information in the world literally at our fingertips and the ability to be in contact with everyone in satellite range. That’s a lot to handle. In my life, digital media is used as a convenience and a positive. I look to digital media for news, communication, and entertainment. That doesn’t mean that I spend hours in front of a TV watching dribble or playing video games. Everything in moderation is my policy. Our generation has the potential to make the biggest advancements in medicine, mathematics, space exploration, genetics, and many other fields. I think that it would be a shame to waste that opportunity by playing online games and instant messaging all the time."

Grand prize winner Mike H. of Kentucky presents some misguided legal views in his essay "From Gutenberg to Gateway": "Another important issue about the use of digital media is the process of illegally downloading media, especially music. This is when people download music or other media from websites for free." Neither Mike nor the contest judges seemed to know that downloading free digital media is not necessarily a crime. Obviously the RIAA's misinformation engine is running smoothly.

From Stephanie M's grand prize essay "Digital Media and Me" comes a tale of addiction: "Even though I say I’m addicted to MySpace and AIM, I’m no where near as obsessed at my nine year-old brother is with internet games. The longest he was on the computer was eighteen hours and fifty-two minutes. The only way you could get him away from the computer was to tempt him with food. He is so enticed by internet games that he wet himself because he didn’t want to waste time going to the bathroom...My brother was playing a videogame that involved a lot of fighting and he lost. He has a very short temper so when his character died he banged his fists down on the keyboard and broke it. Then he gets frustrated and took it out on the rest of the family and our furniture."

In "Untitled Essay," Kyle M. of Wyoming writes "While it is true that attention spans shorten through constant and immediate stimulation, it is also true that this constant change allows kids to 'multi-task' within their own brains. The new generation has the capability of thinking about several things at one time and doing it well, much like the computers from which they acquired this quality. The constant need for stimulation has several other effects, such as the desire to get things done and not be lazy, both positive effects."

After making movies with the Lego Studios hardware/software kit, John P. of Georgia writes "All this has changed my perspective on how I watch movies now. I no longer just watch a movie just to see what happens. I also watch movies to see what kind of acting, sound effects and camera angles make the movie enjoyable and exciting. I now see the movies from more of a director’s point of view."

Obviously, American teens raised with technology are affected by it for better or worse--mostly better, judging by the essays. But have most American teens grown up with technology in the house? The 146 essays submitted were doubtless written by teens who "have." I want to hear from the "have nots."
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Comment posted by Marshall Kirkpatrick
March 29, 2006 @ 6:45 pm
Tony, you might be interested in some of the case studies over at Net Squared: Remixing the Web for Social Change

Lots of youth oriented ones and very international. Of particular interest might be our profile of SMASHcast, a podcast produced by disadvantaged kids in the Bay Area. I interviewed the group's director at

Likewise, you can see a lot of youth oriented tech projects via this search:

And speaking of Second Life, Robin Harper - the Senior Vice President of Community Development and Support at Linden Lab is going to be one of our many speakers at the Net Squared conference in SF this May.

Thanks for putting out the call for examples of kids who "have not" being positively impacted by tech. Thankfully, I think there are a growing number of examples!

Keep up the good work here. I just subscribed here last week and now read this and New World Notes regularly. Fascinating stuff.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
March 29, 2006 @ 7:04 pm
Hi Marshall,
Thanks for dropping by, adding the links, and your feedback. To put a finer point on the tech issue, I'm more interested in hearing about who isn't able or willing to use technology in North America than who is not positively affected by it. I'll definitely check your links out, cheers.
Comment posted by bjoseph
March 30, 2006 @ 12:00 pm
Tony, Thanks for helping to spread the youth voices from the essay contest. Those who visit the landing site now - - can now read quotes from ALL submitted essays, not just the winning ones, which directly address many of the unintended consuquences of digital media.

We also concur with your interest in hearing from those with less access. This was just a pilot program and that level of outreach will play a keyrole in any expansion.

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