I joined a small group of Stanford alums one evening last week to talk with Jim Steyer, the peripatetic guy who manages to be a well-loved professor at Stanford, the Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media (a big think tank focused on media and families), an author, a civil rights lawyer, father of four kids, and probably more I don't know about.
Jim is passionate about media's impact on kids, both good and bad. The book he is touting just came out last week and it's entitled Talking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age. Jim makes a provocative point that without guidance, kids are ill equipped to deal with the onslaught of media in their lives. When you consider that kids are now spending more time each day on media and technology than they do with their families or in school (think of it!), you have to have some concern about just what impact is all this relationship with media and technology having on kids?
He is especially concerned about three major challenges to kids that are write large with the impact of technology: relationships, addiction/attention, and privacy. Steyer referred to Shelly Turkle (whose book Alone Together I commented on a few posts ago) and her extensive research on the depth of relationships that kids form with their phones and computers--with a resulting loss in their relationship with other flesh and blood people in their loves. As to addictive and attention deficit issues, any adult who uses a smart phone and/or a computer is aware of how easy it is to get compulsive about staying connected to one's on-line connections.
I was especially struck by Steyer's talk of privacy. He made a distinction between boys and girls, noting that girls are more likely to reveal what they are thinking and feeling before they reflect on it. That leads to the kind of comments that get on to Facebook and are forever there, out in the ether. Boys do this kind of thing as well (we've all seen the photos taken at the drunken frat party), but apparently are less inclined to the kind of almost daily revelations that some girls are prone to make.
I have to admit that I'd become resigned to thinking that frankly there is no privacy any longer and to think that there is is to be simply naive. Steyer doesn't agree.
He feels that there are real privacy issues that can and should be addressed and that it is imperative we do so as a nation. As he puts it, "There is no watchdog and there needs to be" protecting major privacy issues that concern each of us, let alone our children. It's true, we have governmental watchdogs for drugs, for food, for airport security, for lots of stuff...but we have no oversight of this digital Goliath in our midst that is changing the way our rains are wired. It all happened so fact, we system of checks and balances has simply not caught up with the smart phone phenomenon.
As you can imagine, Steyer really got to me when he said "We need to have a big national--if not global--conversation about the pros and cons of Facebook's impact on our kids."
No kidding. So how is that going to happen? It may be that we have to start in our homes, setting up simple grounds rules for families to follow if they want to get the upper hand on the smart phone beast. That's why Steyer wrote the book, basically to provide a guide to parents to do just that.