Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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Childhood in the digital age

2.1 ‘Homo interneticus’

The following video focuses on the changing nature of online relationships and introduces you to Dr Aleks Krotoski, who looks at how the internet is reshaping our lives and transforming how children think and relate to others. She talks to a range of individuals, including Professor Susan Greenfield and eminent clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle, and asks their views on social networks and children’s interactions.

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Dr Aleks Krotoski
It has been 20 years since the World Wide Web was created and every aspect of our lives has been touched by this digital revolution.
Stephen Fry
Sir Tim Berners-Lee is someone who invented something of unbelievable power.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee
I think of the web as humanity connected.
Al Gore
Human civilisation as a whole is now witnessing the connection of people, everywhere on earth, through this web.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
The great fear is that this revolution is making our senses and imagination dependent on screens, shifting us from the real world to the virtual.
Baroness Susan Greenfield
It's a world that has no consequences. It's a world dominated by senses, so why do you need cognition, why do you need meaning, why do you need metaphor?
Steve Wozniak
Is it going to bring us a different, better life, or is it going to bring us a different style of communication? That's the question; I don't have the answer.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
We worry that our kids are being sucked into a superficial online culture. Are they, for better, or for worse, evolving from homo sapiens into some sort of homo interneticus?
Charlie Leadbetter
A lot of this is a kind of middle-age, middle-class panic about the web. They're panicked by the future, they're panicked by what they think children are doing.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
I'm going to plunge into the fear and the hype to find out whether the web really is trivialising our relationships and rotting our brains. At its heart, this is about what makes us us, and whether the web distorts or enriches our very humanity.
The fear for coming generations extends well beyond South Korea. Back in Britain, the ultimate sceptic is the neuroscientist, Susan Greenfield. She tirelessly voices her concern about how the web may be distorting children's sense of reality.
Baroness Susan Greenfield
When a child is in the real world, even if it's a real world of a doll's house, this is a world where your doll might break, someone might stamp on your toy soldier. So you're learning that actions have consequences. So imagine you're a young person on a computer. It is a world where there is a strong premium on hearing and vision, on strong sensation. There is a triumph of the senses over the meaning. If you give a human brain an environment where actions don't have consequences, if you give that brain an environment that is just literal, where there is no significance, might it not be the case that that brain stays in an infantilised state?
When I talk to parents and people individually, I've yet to meet someone to disagree with me. Everyone seems to feel a kind of uneasy fear and a poorly articulated worry that they can’t really put into words but nonetheless, they feel that something needs to be done.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
Susan Greenfield represents the most extreme view that across Britain there is unease that children are growing up only knowing life online. That this is a generation consumed by the web. I have friends and family who are struggling with their children over new technologies. Even the most technologically savvy amongst them find it strange that their kids are more comfortable in front of the screen than they are. I happen to visit many of the same sites that their kids are on, and while I've gotten used to them, I do still feel a bit like a tourist.
I'm constantly amazed with what generation web can do with new technology, and so I'm going to find out what living with generation web is really like. Parents across the country need no introduction to this familiar scene.
Jackie
Their lives are completely centred around their computers.
Louis
I chat to friends and do comments, and stuff.
Kate
Usually Facebook and Hotmail, and stuff.
Jim
The kids come home, and are on Facebook before they're having their first cup of tea.
Louis
You can communicate with people and you can look into their lives, and stuff.
Jackie
When I was young, we didn't even have a home telephone.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
Can you imagine life without the web?
Louis
Um, no.
Kate
No.
Jackie
I think it would be like removing her arm, if you took her Facebook site away from her.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
What do you think life was like before the web?
Louis
Really boring. Yeah.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
What do you think people did?
Louis
Read books.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
By the time generation web reach adulthood, they will have spent 10,000 hours online, and a huge proportion of those will have been spent on online social networks.
But Zuckerberg stuck to his guns. He was determined that Facebook users would live life in the loop.
Mark Zuckerberg
Within a few days we could see in our stats already just the amount of page views people were doing and the amount of engagement they had on the site was going up because what they were coming to the site to do was just to see what their friends were doing, on a day to day basis, and this just made it so much easier to do that.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
  It's this culture of real-time updating and not the numbers of friends that's the big shift in all of our relationships. Constant status updates, this being in the online loop, has dragged the web into a new age inspiring many imitators, most famously, Twitter. But more importantly, what does this shift mean for you and me as we live our daily lives? I'm going to meet Sherry Turkle an eminent clinical psychologist who has been studying our relationship with technology for 20 years. She's actively researching how the web's feedback loops challenge our sense of who we are.
Sherry
I think you've started to get almost a new personality type. It moves from I have a feeling I want to make a call to I want to have a feeling, I need to make a call. There's a sense in which you almost need the validation and the support of the community to, in fact, feel the feeling in the first place. Bringing other people into the loop of feeling your feeling. This is very seductive.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
So, as a recipient of all of this information, how do you think this is affecting me?
Sherry
You start to want to hide. I cannot live the Blackberry version of my life. I cannot be, read, know, all of the places and spaces and feelings and Facebook. My life is more than I can live. We're no longer nourished but consumed in some way by what we've created.
Jeff Bezos
I genuinely believe that we co-evolve with our tools and most of our network tools are our smart phones where we can check emails, desktop computers, laptops, they encourage us because it's so convenient to consume lots of information in little snippets.
Chad Hurley
We recently crossed the one billion view mark per day that we're serving. We're also receiving close to 24 hours of video, every minute, on the site, which is a phenomenal amount of data.
Dr Aleks Krotoski
In my life, it's increasingly rare that I have time on my own, time to think. I have a Twitter account and several blogs to maintain, plus my Facebook status updates, my photo diary, my video blogs and my podcast that I have to record. And that's the content that I create. There's also the content that I consume, not least of which are the emails in my inbox and all the messages on my answering machine. I was away for a week and I had 283 emails that I had to go through.
Stephen Fry
We have the knowledge of the ages, gathered for us to browse in our pockets. If we seriously think that's a bad thing, if we seriously think that's something we should turn our backs on, or sniff at, then, we really deserve a slapping. This is astounding technology and we should just take a moment to celebrate the power and the reach that it gives us across time and across ideas, and across continents both past, future and present to connect with people.
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The importance of the social and cultural environment to children’s development is universally accepted. Children thrive on forming connections with other people in their immediate social environments, and psychological theories have consistently reinforced the importance of children’s social and cultural environment in allowing them to communicate and interact successfully.

We know that social interactions and communication form an essential part of growing up. What do you think about the claims that experts are making about children’s use of social networks and social media? What effect are digital social networks having on our children’s relationships? Are social networking activities changing how children think, feel and communicate?

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