Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 23, 2008
Wired world undermines family
Vanier Institute researcher tells CSS that technology offers risks, opportunities
By RAMON GONZALEZ
Calling Canada the most wired of all OECD countries after South Korea, Tipper said 80 per cent of Canadian households own a DVD player and more than 70 per cent of Canadians own at least one computer and spend time on-line.
"Nor should it surprise you to learn that cell-phone subscriptions soared from just under one million in 1987 to more than 18 million by the end of 2006."
Households with children are even more media-saturated. According to a 2005 survey of Canadian youth by the Media Awareness network, 94 per cent of young people have Internet access at home and 50 per cent of Grade 11 students have their own Internet-connected computer, separate and apart from the family, as do 20 per cent of those in Grade 4.
Tipper said 68 per cent of young Canadians have access to a cell phone and 44 per cent use their mobile phones to surf the Net while 56 per cent send text messages. Twenty-two per cent have webcams and 17 per cent have cell phone cameras.
On an average day, these same Canadian youth spend 54 minutes instant messaging, 50 minutes downloading and listening to music, 44 minutes playing online games and 30 minutes doing school work.
In general, digital technologies are very useful. The Internet, she said, extends community and connects people through a web of flexible social networks. Its best feature is that it provides nearly instant access to information.
"Unlike any other generation, our children can access information at a speed and a rate that is truly mind-boggling," Tipper noted.
"And, if we understand knowledge to be power, then this type of access to information has the capacity to be profoundly democratizing by putting the power of knowledge into the hands of the user; in this case, the child."
"In this age of electronic information, there are limits to my parental control."
She watches in awe as her children navigate the Internet. "My awe, though, is often tempered with a certain unease borne from the realization that, in this age of electronic information, there are limits to my parental control."
Information transfer 30 years ago was arguably more static and moved in more of an up-down fashion from parent to child at a pace largely determined by the parent.
"The Internet has subverted this power dynamic," Tipper said. "It is an interactive medium that carries the public into the private along a thin cable wire."
Tipper reminded people that the information children are exposed to on the Internet is by no means neutral. She warned against the constant barrage of marketing and consumer messages targeted directly at them.
Tipper also warned against the sedentary nature of interaction with most electronic media. With soaring rates of obesity and inactivity among children and adults alike, getting children away from the screen and moving their bodies and exercising their imaginations in a different way is simply a good idea.
"Clearly, this age of connectivity is a two-sided coin. Families have an important role to play in both seizing the opportunities and minimizing the risks that come with exposure to new technologies."
How families allocate access to technology in their homes affects use, Tipper said. Children and youth who have their own Internet-connected computer spend twice as much time online as those who use equipment shared by the whole family.
"So keep computers in common family space, stay on top of what your children are exposed to, share a family meal and nurture your relationships with love and compassion."
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