16 February 2011

digital_nation: life on the virtual frontier

If you want to get a really good picture of what my research is about, and you have an hour and 20 minutes to spare, I strongly suggest that you watch the embedded program from PBS's Frontline. (side note--I discovered the most wonderful thing yesterday.  I can download French podcasts onto my iPod for free!  Isn't that beautiful?  I listened to poetry and a French woman talking about her day while I cleaned my apartment yesterday.  My next download will be Frontline's Digital Nation podcast)

Some of the most important things I learned from watching this were possible indicators of high digital literacy: multitasking, being easily distracted and unable to focus "beyond a paragraph," fascination with or addiction to internet games like World of Warcraft (including an interesting historically based explanation for this phenomenon), having too much to do, virtual connectivity and online relationships rather than in-person connections (including an interview with the creator of second life, who has dangerous ideas about his brainchild), and disinclination toward reading.

One of the women interviewed for the program, Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, said this about digitally literate students:
What I'm seeing is a generation that says consistently, "I would rather text than make a telephone call." Why? It's less risky. I can just get the information out there. I don't have to get all involved; it's more efficient. I would rather text than see somebody face to face.

There's this sense that you can have the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. The real demands of friendship, of intimacy, are complicated. They're hard. They involve a lot of negotiation. They're all the things that are difficult about adolescence. And adolescence is the time when people are using technology to skip and to cut corners and to not have to do some of these very hard things.

So of course people try to use everything. But a generation really is growing up that, because it's given the option to not do some of the hardest things in adolescence, are growing up without some basic skills in many cases, and that's very concerning to me.

One of the things I've found with continual connectivity is there's an anxiety of disconnection; that these teens have a kind of panic. They say things like: "I lost my iPhone; it felt like somebody died, as though I'd lost my mind. If I don't have my iPhone with me, I continue to feel it vibrating. I think about it in my locker." The technology is already part of themselves.
As a result of this program I have a plethora of American stories of life in the digital age to draw from.

As far as survey and interview questions for my research, I've thought of a few more after watching this program:
  • How much time do you spend with your friends?
  • How much time do you spend texting or emailing your friends?
  • Do you have any friends that you know only online and not in real life?  How did you find this friend?
  • How much do you read per day?  Do you like reading?
  • How much do you play video games per day?  Do you like video games?
  • How do you multitask?
I must go to class now, but I have some foundations for good questions!


  1. Kristen,

    After reading this I'm wondering what the thesis of your project is. I always figured that you would be focusing on why digital literacy is good, or how it helps people, but this sounds like it's saying digital literacy is bad and makes people less responsible. Of course, in the broad scheme of things you can't really call it "bad" or "good" because there are elements of both, but I guess I'm just wondering what the focus of your study is, or what it is that you want to prove or find out.

    I feel like we don't really talk about our individual projects in class at all. I really don't know much about anybody's project except for mine and Julia's of course. I guess that's why we're supposed to be reading everyone's blogs, but it's a lot to keep up with.

  2. Balance is the answer to a lot of opposing concepts. In a world that changes so quickly and profoundly keeping balance is more difficult than ever. Today our views can become so broad because of exposure to new concepts, ideas and theories. Balance for one is not the same for another, we each must find our own. I often feel like I’m in the center of an ever changing balance board trying to keep myself upright… and my life is mainly filled with concerns like laundry, eating right and getting spots out of the carpet!

  3. Thanks for commenting mom! You're adorable :)

    I think that the continuing struggle of life is to find balance. I always over-correct, too--I found last semester that I was getting depressed because I was spending all my time doing homework, so this semester I tried to get more involved in the social scene and as a result my grades are slipping and I keep not sleeping. But no matter! I will go back in the opposite direction now, though I hope I won't eliminate my newfound sociality.