Tuesday, June 27, 2006

G3N3R4T10N G4P

This week's Maureen Dowd Column, "A Lesson for Parents on 'MySpace Madness'" in the New York Times was a timely call for sanity in the midst of the current MySpace hysteria. Dowd has compared reactions to the media frenzy to the panic about "Reefer Madness" from the heyday of supposedly authoritative black-and-white educational films.

Of course, parents are deluged with enough advice already. When are they supposed to find the time to attend to unseen digital enemies out there in the ether, egged on by their local PTA or by the all-seeing eye of the Virtual Global Taskfore?

This month is Internet Saftety Month. Yippee. It's a holiday that apparently comes twice-a-year because it is also commemorated in April. Corporate giant Microsoft can direct you to isafe.org, where you can buy t-shirts and stuffed companions, like the iBuddy above. Maybe you can persuade your teen to hang out at with the hipsters at X-Block, which boasts its own newspaper and TV station, to complement their creepy distance learning program about the perils of online nastiness, the Virtual Training Academy. Even Hillary Clinton has a media guide for the older generation! Lucky us.

As I've said, I think this whole panic about a widening generation gap is designed to sell Americans their favorite corporate product: fear. Sure, teens have come up with a ring tone that adults can't hear, and they may be complaining about summer camp on their own websites rather than in "Dearest Muddah" letters home from Camp Granada, but the Internet can also offer opportunities to bridge the age divide.

File sharing can encourage other kinds of cross-generational sharing. I often show my kids the digital ephemera that I find on the web, and they -- in turn -- share with me links and files that they've discovered, which sometimes appear on this blog.

The Internet also offers opportunities for creative play. Build an elaborate music-making machine from le ciel est bleu or paint a Jackson Pollock-style canvas. Avoid sites from large corporations or culturally conservative political institutions that are pushing more regulation.

Besides, if it is really us-vs-them, the Internet helps parents consolidate their resources as well. For example, the New York Times also recently ran a piece, "The Website of All Mothers," about the online networking efforts of parents in my area. I recognized several locales in Culver City as Mommy hotspots from my own days in a F2F mother's group. (Some of those interactions were later fictionalized in a short story I wrote for the Mississippi Review.)



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