The Kaiser Family Foundation's recent survey of teen media use found that:
Today, 8-18 year-olds devote [emphasis mine] an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).
I am struck by the KFF's use of the word "devote" here - it seems out of place. "Devotion" implies (to me) a reverence for the time of one's life and the use of it for higher purposes. More likely, I reckon KFF's survey kids "found themselves spending time with" media - they did not "devote themselves" to it.
The knee-jerk paternal response to these statistics is, "what limits should we enforce on children's use of electronic media?" A deeper question would be, "how can we lead young people to consider the potential value of devoting their time?"
Parents and schools should work harder and smarter to activate the consideration in teens that "Though we may enjoy the leisurely embrace of family support now, one day soon we will rely on ourselves, armed with whatever capacities we are developing now. What we do for the time being, while we become these older selves, matters a great deal."
At what age should we start laying this trip on our kids? How can we help them develop the capacity to devote themselves - to identify, value and choose pursuits that serve a higher purpose than immediate gratification?
On ISED-L (list of independent school educators), Brian Lee posted this article: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,710139,00.html which begins with the following snapshot:
Seventeen-year-old Jetlir is online every day, sometimes for many hours at a time and late into the night. The window of his instant messaging program is nearly always open on his computer screen. A jumble of friends and acquaintances chat with each other. Now and again Jetlir adds half a sentence of his own, though this is soon lost in the endless stream of comments, jokes and greetings.
Keith Gatling responded:
These kids are "digital natives" in the same sense that some of you were "Cable TV Natives" and some of us before you were just plain old "TV Natives," and most of us are "Print Natives." Because we are natives at using a particular medium doesn't mean that most of us will be, will want to be, or even should be [emphasis mine] natives at producing for it.
I disagree: most of us should be natives at producing Internet media! That is part of what is so wonderful and powerful about the Internet - it makes authoring and self-publishing as easy as composing an email.
For Digital Natives who only consume media, the problem is not the technology - it's the lack of a public voice, and/or a community context in which to develop one. Once they learn what their interests are, research those interests to have informed opinions, and find venues to share those opinions online and be recognized and responded to, students become producers.
What should schools do about these Kaiser Family Foundation statistics, and the "participation gap" between consumers and producers of media?
- Help students learn to use the Internet to educate and empower themselves. That means providing contexts for Googling, blogging, and contributing to collective projects like Wikipedia. By opening up to blended and social learning, teachers can leverage their students' love of instant messaging and video to create engagement in new knowledge domains.
- Help students master their time beings with devotion to self-improvement. Though it may be 4 or 6 years until college or full-time work, the things students do "for the time being" help create the beings they will become. They need reminders and structures to recognize and respond to this truth, and not give in to easy entertainments.
I think schools should lead "computer turn-off days" as well as "TV turn-off days" (or weeks) - and teachers who participate should introduce the concept (if not the word) of devotion as an alternative to easy gratification in preparation for such turn-off days, helping students find pursuits of greater being-value to fill the created time. Each student should be primed with teacher and peer suggestions for things to do that could support deeper levels of creative engagement than media-watching and text-messaging.
Afterward, hold school-wide surveys to find out whether that preparation was effective: whether students found better things to do, or realized anything about their dependency on passive entertainments, and whether, on return, asked themselves, "why am I sitting here watching this when I could be there doing / creating that?"
"Devotion" is an awkward word, because of its religious overtones, but it might be worth reclaiming in educational discourse. There is something uniquely powerful in the human capacity to choose what we do based on what we wish to become - something worth noticing and cultivating.
Devotion is painfully elusive to young people like my stepson who struggle with severe ADD. Though there are genetic factors, I suspect that the growing prevalence of crippling ADD is situationally triggered by the availability of easy media, and a peer culture that promotes easy indulgence in it.
Absent something like "devotion", what leads young people with ADD resist the urge of immediate gratifications? What leads them to shoulder the frightening difficult task of envisioning and preparing for adult lives, when they can instead warm themselves with friendly connections and easy entertainments?