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Thursday, March 29, 2007

'Distributed friendship'

Ninety percent of British youth have access to a computer at home, and more than 60% of UK 13-to17-year-olds have profiles on social-networking sites, The Telegraph reports in its thorough, thoughtful article, "Can u speak teenager?" Like the New York magazine piece I linked to last week, this one reflects some interesting analysis occurring about how all this online socializing is affecting growing up now – and how it compares to the way we grew up. For example, we maybe had a few really close friends with whom we shared "everything." The average teen now has 75 friends rather than 5, London School of Economics Prof. Sonia Livingston told The Telegraph. Today's youth are connected to a whole community of peers. Closeness, intimacy, the sharing of secrets is distributed rather than individual and private. This gives new meaning to "strength in numbers." And there is a "culture of openness" now that Dr. Arthur Cassidy, a psychologist at the Belfast Institute, told The Telegraph can be "particularly therapeutic for teenage boys."


Cyberbullying findings

Cross-gender peer pressure and Web video are not a good mix, this Reuters report indicates. Cyberbullies are pressuring "friends" to strip in front of Webcams so the bullies can share the video online. A research team at the University of Toronto held focus groups with 47 students in grades 5-12 to look into online behavior like this. "The images are even more likely to be passed on if the couple breaks up," their research found. It also confirmed what other studies have that: that victims refuse to tell an adult about the abuse because they fear parents will shut down their Internet access, and because it's "pointless to tell parents" when the bully can't be identified (s/he usually can be, but kids don't know this). The full study will be released in June, Reuters says.

Multitasking's limits: Studies

It appears critical thinking is needed where multitasking's concerned. Don't just yield indiscriminately to technology's "tug," the New York Times report suggests - manage your technology! The Times says experts in multiple studies advise that we "check email messages once an hour, at most. Listening to soothing background music while studying may improve concentration. But other distractions — most songs with lyrics, instant messaging, television shows — hamper performance. Driving while talking on a cellphone, even with a hands-free headset, is a bad idea." There's still a lot we don't know, though. Because we've only had all these multitasking-enabling digital devices a short time, the research has only just begun.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A call to stop cyberbulllying

Death threats against prominent blogger Kathy Sierra have set off what looks to be an unprecedented Internet-wide protest against cyberbullying. It's a horrible way to raise awareness, but awareness has long been needed. I unconsciously previewed the news when I wrote "Predators vs. cyberbullies: A reality check" a couple of weeks ago. More recently, "when computer programmer and author Kathy Sierra began blogging about technology, she fully expected to see comments critical of her ideas. What she didn't anticipate were online posts advocating her murder or sexual assault against her," Business Week reports. Hundreds of bloggers have blogged their protests, and tech-education blogger Andy Carvin has called for this Friday to be Stop Cyberbullying Day and created not a new blog but a new social-networking site to mark the day. My thanks to friend, blogger, and tech educator Anne Bubnic for her heads-up on this.

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Texting-while-driving ban?

Washington State is considering a ban on driving while texting, and "at least three other" states are too, CBS NEWS reports. Washington's House of Representatives voted yes on the ban, following, "among other things, a December pileup that shut down a Seattle highway for more than an hour. Police blame a driver who was using his BlackBerry."

1 in 6 self-injure

One in six US adolescents are inflicting injury on themselves, according to research by Stony Brook University psychology professor David Klonsky, and the number is rising. Reuters reports that his study "involved interviews with about 40 students who self-injure" and an analysis of 30 years of research on self-inflicted cutting and burning. He found the behavior is "often linked to depression but not suicide" (the latter a fairly common misconception), and it's a coping mechanism. One of his interviewees told Professor Klonsky that cutting distracted her from her emotional anguish (her brother had gone to prison and her father to serve in the US military in Iraq). Klonsky says this has become a major problem in schools in the US, Britain, and Australia. Though the behavior is usually solitary and secretive, like involvement in eating disorders, it can find the wrong kind of reinforcement online - as well as help (see "The social Web's 'Lifeline'"). Meanwhile, parents might also want to read a New York Times report on "the choking game": "Asphyxiation games have been around for many years, [but] a series of locally publicized deaths around the country over the last few years, coupled with a realization that teenagers are seeing the game on Internet sites like YouTube, and playing it in more threatening variations - more often ... alone with a rope - are sparking a vigorous and open discussion in schools and among parents' groups, summer camp administrators and doctors."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

'Think Before You Post' launched

The US Justice Department, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and Ad Council just launched a new phase of their media campaign to raise public awareness about exploitation of online teens, Government Technology magazine reports. The article cites a news study by Cox Communications showing that 61% of 13-to-17-year-olds have a personal profile on social networking sites; half of them "have posted pictures of themselves online"; 20% of them say it is "somewhat safe" or "very safe" to share personal info on a public blog or profile; and 37% say "they're not very concerned or not at all concerned about someone using personal information they've posted online in ways they haven't approved." The "Think Before You Post" videos can be viewed in the Ad Council site, and here's the National Center's press release. Here's coverage from the Muncie (Ind.) Free Press.

Online video stars

Winners of the first-annual YouTube awards included videos of "Chicago band OK Go dancing across treadmills," a Sydney man hugging strangers in the street, and "an animated video about a kiwi bird trying to fly," Reuters reports. Categories included "Most Adorable," "Best Commentary," and Most Inspirational," and "Best Comedy," and Reuters lists the winner in each.

File-sharing students' settlements

Some 18,000 file-sharers have been sued by the recording industry trade association (RIAA) so far, about 1,000 of them university students, the Associated Press reports. The RIAA offers the students settlements that can cost them as much as $3,000. It "sent letters offering discounted settlements to 400 computer users at 13 universities in late February," with 116 settlements having been reached so far. The RIAA sent another such batch of letters out this week. The letters can be scary, so it's no surprise students settle. "A letter to one Ohio University student told her that she distributed 787 audio files, putting her total minimum potential liability at more than $590,000."

Monday, March 26, 2007

From 2nd Life to Spore

You don't just create a fully developed avatar (online version of yourself) in Spore, you start from cellular-level scratch and develop yourself and your world over time in the forthcoming game that its creator - (SimCity creator and "videogame god") Will Wright – believes will help mankind. Big vision, but if it becomes the blockbuster some analysts believe it will, it just might. According to The Register, Wright sees the game as "a learning exercise." He describes Spore (expected to be out later this year) as "a 'philosophy tool' that will force people to spend extra time 'contemplating the meaning of life' or considering the complex workings of civilizations. You might, for example, be forced to manage a planet battling global warming" or deal with real life threats. The Register steps away from its usual slight cynicism to concede that "Spore does look to place higher demands on users than your typical brain-shrinking garbage such as Second Life or for that matter television." CNET and Business Week covered Wright's keynote at a recent game developers conference (note his comparison of videogames and film in CNET and the more "player-centered" aspect of games he describes in Business Week).