Growing up online: what we learned

Frontline (PBS). This quote is from one of the producers, Caitlin McNally. There’s not a whole lot there that’s new to me, but it looks like the show will be good introduction to the subject.

The majority of teenagers we talked to expressed good-natured exasperation that their parents “didn’t know how to work a computer” or barely understood text messaging. I was confident that because I’m completely comfortable using a computer, e-mail and a cell phone, I’d relate pretty quickly to how the kids we met communicate online. This was not the case.

Writing an e-mail for a lot of the kids we talked to is equivalent to sitting down and hand-writing a letter for me. They described e-mail as a slow, archaic way to keep in touch with your aunt halfway across the country or apply for a summer internship. Even the most articulate kids who aced all their English classes could switch effortlessly into IM or text-speak; quick, pithy, shorthand Internet language was second nature to almost all the kids we met. They’re bilingual, and they intuitively understand an entire culture generated by the Internet, with customs and vocabulary that we had to learn step-by-step.

Maybe even more striking to me was how social networking sites have become fully integrated into kids’ lives. I didn’t build my first profile until after college; it felt underground and novel, like being in on a joke. I’d never even heard the term “social networking.” Having a profile on the Internet was ancillary to my “real” life, while for the kids we met, it has become a fundamental element of what they do each day and how they represent who they are.