Exploring the new media landscape

'Everything I know about computers I learned from my kid.' -Quote on a refrigerator magnet...
March 1, 1998

‘Everything I know about computers I learned from my kid.’
-Quote on a refrigerator magnet

To say that our children are growing up in a different media landscape than the one we grew up in is almost a comical understatement. The multiple channel universe, access to the Internet and the increasingly broad range of new forms of interactive multimedia all present children with enticing options for their entertainment and education. There is no doubt that the wide range of multimedia available to children is rapidly changing the way they are entertained, taught and socialized as consumers of electronic media. The opening panel on New Media Day of the Second World Summit on Television for Children, ‘Access, Ownership, Excellence: Extending the Charter to New Media,’ will address what some of these changes mean for children’s access to and control of the entertainment, information and communication tools of the Information Age. It will also discuss the potential impact of these changes on children’s media producers.

Many media professionals find it difficult to keep up with the information, communication and entertainment technologies and the potential influences-positive and negative-that this new media world represents. During the past few years, we have been bombarded with mass media hype about the ‘Information Superhighway’ reaching our homes and ‘wiring us to the future,’ about the educational and entertainment benefits of television merging with computer technology, about the ‘synergistic’ reasoning behind the mergers and acquisitions among broadcast, cable, phone, publishers and entertainment companies. Globally, the top entertainment and telecommunications executives have said that they view children as the primary beneficiaries of these developments that are shaping the lanes, vehicles and drivers on the ever-extending metaphor of the Information Superhighway.

Educationally and technologically speaking they are right; these products and services have the potential to help prepare our young cybercadets for the creative, intellectual, civic and workplace challenges of the next millennium. But, in my view, the jury is still out on whether they are all thinking about children in this context as our greatest resource that should benefit from truly excellent new media products and tools, or as a market.

In particular, the panel will focus on the current issues surrounding kids’ use of the Internet. We all want to encourage our children to develop the computer literacy skills to make the best use of the quality educational and entertainment possibilities offered by on-line activity. If used appropriately, the Internet can be a powerful tool that connects young learners to valuable information, communities of peers with shared interests, the home and the school, places around the globe that they may never be able to visit, expert advice and popular culture thrills-on demand 24 hours a day. For producers, the Internet presents the opportunity to enhance, update and customize program content, create ongoing communities, gather valuable feedback from its audience-giving it a dynamic quality never before possible. The audience now can be part of the program, contributing to its development and influencing the outcome.

However, there is widespread concern that travel in cyberspace also exposes young Netizens to content that they do not fully understand or know how to respond to appropriately. This discussion will emphasize the importance of creating media that will help our children become cybersmart through designs that can help kids protect themselves from indecent content, on-line predation, commercial exploitation and activities that make poor use of their time and intelligence. Learning to discern the valuable uses of new media is the most important computer literacy skill children can develop.

We will also discuss the inequalities of technology access. How do we ensure the equitable distribution of technological resources? The world is dividing into two societies-one that’s comfortable, competent and gaining valuable skills and knowledge in the computer world and one that doesn’t even have access. Every child must be given the opportunity to use digital media in its most empowering ways-to find their own personal path to learning, knowledge acquisition and creative expression, as well as for global communication and information gathering. How can government and industry take the lead here? This is a moral issue.

We must recognize not only the problem of the lack of quality media in all our children’s lives, but the fact that those media of the highest quality are most likely to be available to more affluent children. Children from economically disadvantaged households have limited or no venues for computer learning. Electronic and information deprivation follow hard on the heels of economic deprivation, raising the specter that today’s poor children may have less chance than ever to participate as full citizens tomorrow.

Still, technological inequity won’t end even when all children have access to the hardware and are wired to the global information infrastructure; they must also be wired to appropriate and beneficial media experiences and content. The panel will also address how to assess and promote excellence in new media.

Dr. Carla Seal-Wanner is president and founder of New York-based @ccess4@11, an organization devoted to distributing quality interactive media to all children. She is the author of the book Raising Our Digital Kids, to be published next year. She is producing and speaking in the New Media panel ‘Access, Ownership, Excellence: Extending the Charter to New Media’ on Thursday, March 12.

About The Author


Brand Menu