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Wiring the Kids

Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5    by Christopher Martin and Bettina Fabos

"Networked computers allow everyone to join the
information age, and wed like to say welcome."
-- an Oracle commerical

As indicated by these television ads and political proponents, we are in an era of Tomorrow-Land style gee-whiz optimism about the Internet. But, as a mass medium, the Internet and home/school computers are destined to go the way of other mass media -- that is, the use of the Net will become more integrated into daily home and school life for children, but the sheen will also soon wear off. There are interesting sites to see and good people to meet on the World Wide Web, but there also can be persistent advertisements and sales pitches, offensive communications, and time-wasting dead-end links. Parents, too, will worry (and already are) about their children sitting in front of their WebTV after school, once they find out that the "blue light of learning" is caused by a downloaded video file of three-way sex.

Idyllic settings will give way to reality: children in schools will fight over who gets to use the mouse. The young lovers sending messages to each other after midnight will tire of late night Internet conversations and desire something more. And, the poor urban kid of the Oracle ad may still find the $299 base price for a networked computer to be unattainable, especially in this Information Age global economy that exports jobs out of his city. The "seat of knowledge" may be even more out of reach for the East Asian children who would need a whole year of underage labor to buy a networked computer.

The current socioeconomic push is creating the generation that will make the Internet a true mass medium. Parents and teachers may be charmed to see children at early ages fascinated with the cool machines and technology of the adult Information Age. But, as indicated by the imagery of television ads promoting the Net, parents and teachers are rendered unnecessary by this technology (except for, perhaps, being the suppliers of new technology and its subsequent updates). Wiring kids to the Internet -- as suggested by these television ads -- is done at the expense of further making children little consumers, and using the net as a substitute for the important relationships in their development.

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Christopher R. Martin teaches in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Northern Iowa and Bettina Fabos is an Iowa Fellow in the Language, Literacy, and Culture Program at the University of Iowa.


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