Thursday, June 7, 2012

Literacy 2.0: Closing the Digital Time-wasting Gap

Posted by  on June 6, 2012 in ContributorsTechWire

A smartphone is like a brain. Just having one doesn’t guarantee it will be used productively. Success in life depends on more than just having access to a smartphone or an Internet connection or a brain. Digital devices, like brains, can be used for learning and creating, but they can also be used for absorbing vast amounts of vapid entertainment. They can be used as tools for meaningful communication or for mindless chitchat and insipid social blather.
So, it is not too surprising to discover that initiatives to close the gap between those who have broadband Internet and related technologies and those who don’t (the digital divide) may not be raising the overall level of learning and creativity. In fact, the well-intended efforts may be widening the learning divide.
Studies show that tech access leads to media excess for kids in all socioeconomic strata. That’s worrisome in itself, but is to be expected. What wasn’t foreseen is that kids in poorer families tend to overindulge in entertainment media more than their peers in more well-off families.
A study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spend 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.
The study found that children of parents who do not have a college degree spend 11.5 hours each day exposed to media from a variety of sources, including television, computer and other gadgets — an increase of 4 hours and 40 minutes per day since 1999. In families in which a parent has a college education or an advanced degree children use 10 hours of multimedia daily — an increase of 3 hours and 30 minutes per day since 1999.
Writing in the New York Times, Matt Richtel calls this emerging divide the “time-wasting gap.” He quotes Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft as saying, “access is not a panacea…not only does it not solve problems, it mirrors and magnifies existing problems we’ve been ignoring.” Boyd notes that in our quest to close the digital divide we did not fully anticipate the overwhelming use of digital technology for entertainment. “We failed to account for this ahead of the curve,” she says.
The New York Times article anecdotally places part of the blame for the growing time-wasting gap on the lack of parental control, which is more acute in families where the parents do not have access to the technology but their kids do. Parents who lack digital literacy skills are less capable of monitoring the use of technology by their kids and lack the experience to teach digital scholarship and digital citizenship.

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