PBS Frontline's 'Digital Nation': Presenting Our Generation With a Crucial Choice
While documenting a fearful point in media history the Digital Nation's producers offer parents and other mass-media natives the opportunity to stop mourning what's lost in this media shift and - for our kids' sakes - seek and consider what's being gained.
Seems to me, Gever Tully's Tinkering School would be the perfect antidote for all the concern about kids and digital media expressed in PBS Frontline's "Digital Nation" – hands-on problem-solving, lots of tools, collaboratively learning by doing, giving kids time to work the problem, celebrating and analyzing failures, teaching that success is embedded in the process. The thing is, so much of that sort of tinkering is being done by kids using the very digital media and technologies that are the focus of our fears. But more on that in a minute.
This time, Frontline, which airs on PBS this Tuesday night, is depicting the personal explorations of Digital Nation's writers themselves, those of Rachel Dretzin and Douglas Rushkoff, both parents. Last time, in 2008's "Growing Up Online," the stories were more those of the documentary's subjects. It's as if Dretzin, the producer of both Growing Up Online and Digital Nation, was shaken by what her reporting turned up in the last project. Thoughtful journalist/anthropologist that she is, she went in-depth and looked at all sides of those teens' stories, presenting the most balanced picture I'd seen anywhere to that point, having interviewed leading social-media researchers such as C.J. Pasco and danah boyd for depth and perspective.
In Digital Nation, at least the preview version I saw this past weekend, it seems the main story is two parents' concerns. We're on a 90-minute journey with them, wending our way through skillfully told vignettes (about everything from a South Korean boy at videogame-addiction camp to the US Army's shopping-mall-based videogame arcade/ recruiting center to a corporation's daily multinational staff meetings in a virtual world) and thought-provoking interviews, again with top academics (e.g., MIT's Sherry Turkle, USC's Henry Jenkins, Arizona State's James Paul Gee, educator Katie Salen, Emory's Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation, and Marc Prensky, who coined the term "digital natives"). Important, if not particularly new, questions are raised – for example, about multitasking, etiquette, addiction, alienation, and the blurring of virtual and real.
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