How is technology changing children? Most people I know don’t really believe that kids are any different than they’ve ever been, but others claim that technology encourages them to multitask, to scatter their attention more than ever, and yet manage just fine. I’ve heard it claimed that techno-savvy children have gained an almost mystical ability to assemble impressions and ideas from the fragments of word and image that the world around constantly bombards them with into new ideas that make sense.

I’m a great believer in synchronicity & serendipity. This morning I opened a book and read a passage at random. Here it is: a quote I found in a book called Popular Culture, New Media and Digital Literacy in Early Childhood, edited by Jackie Marsh (RoutledgeFalmer, 2005). The quote’s from Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood (Vintage, 1994):

Childhood… was an outgrowth of an environment in which a particular form of information, exclusively controlled by adults, was made available in stages to children in what was judged to be psychologically assimilable ways. The maintenance of childhood depended on the principles of managed information and sequential learning.

In the early 90s, when Postman wrote these words, the Web was in its earliest stages, and most children had no access to it. Today, of course, in the Web 2.0 era, in the age of Facebook and MySpace and Wikipedia and all the other online destinations, children can not only be clonked on the head by chunks of information from a thousand places, but can generate chunks of it themselves to toss at other kids.

Adults have less control over managing and sequencing information in the era of Web 2.0, obviously, and this loss of control affects the way children build the world they live in. Are children assimilating this mess of out-of-sequence fragments well and building new worlds out of them, or just spending hours online because society & their peers tell them it’s a cool thing to do without much of a constructive result, or because they just want to play games? What do you think?

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