November 26, 2008

Response to the Nov. 25, 2008 Globe and Mail article, "Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be Luddites".

First, it is important to be aware that the MacArthur Foundation grants are given out entirely anonymously. The whole process is strictly confidential. The Kids Internet Safety Alliance, is a collaboration between gov't and industry. While it was est. to provide an aggressive and proactive response to the negative aspects of the Internet that harm young people it also acknowledges and celebrates the positive, creative and inspiring ways children and youth use the internet.

All strategies for addressing harmful effects, however, are firmly focused on catching the culprits - such as pornographers - preying on kids. i.e. tougher sentencing, Brazil's tougher child porn laws etc. Nothing on cleaning up the content, itself or charging corporate advertising culprits who prey on kids. No mention either, of recent studies which find that incessant cell phone use and text messaging causes brain cancer and medical cautions against any cell phone use at all for kids.

KINSA Board chair and co-founder, Bill Hutcheson, is an international telecom CEO and ad man. According to their website "His focus has been the successful restructuring of companies for growth of 200-300 percent over a 3 year period in Europe, Asia and N.A." He has his own consulting practice in Toronto and is considered one of Canada's "top movers and shakers".

Also on the Board, is Danielle Parr. She is executive director of the Entertainment Software Ass. of Canada and is "dedicated to serving business and public affairs needs of companies that publish and distribute video and computer games for computers, handheld devices and the Internet. Its range of services offered includes an anti piracy program. Members represent over 90% of the $765 million in entertainment software sold in Canada in 2006". She also serves on the Ent. Software Rating Brd; the Manitoba Minister's Advisory Committee on video games and the Ont. Gov't video industry strategy committee. Her last job was in corporate affairs in the auto industry.

All the "positive" and "seeming harmless" outgrowths discussed in the article can, of course, be accepted as some of the better aspects of our new digital world. Conspiciously absent, however, is any reference or acknowledgement of the harmful, addictive aspects, both from the technology itself and from the sedentary nature of its use. Missing entirely is any acknowledgement of the damage to brain cells, diminishing capacity for empathy etc. that causes greater predisposition to violent behaviour, attention deficit disorder which often leads to reliance on prescription drugs followed by illegal drugs and so on. I just came from a breakfast mtg of the Ont. Psychological Foundation. Dr. Anne Mellers, who chaired the proceedings said, in Canada, 1.4 million kids suffer from mental illness. (20) percent. 1 in 6 get help.

Missing here, as in the Ont. Gov't Report on Roots to Youth Violence" released on Nov. 14th, perhaps on the advice of Danielle Parr, herself, is any reference to the influence of electronic media in contributing to these mental health problems in youth.

The key researcher for this study, sociologist C.J Pascoe, U. of California, Berkeley, is an enthusiastic fan of anything digital for the teens she studies betn the ages of 16-18 yrs. On her website she says her research has been primarily on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender kids. I quote," the internet gives queer kids the opportunity to meet romantic partners...it also gives pro-anorexics a chance to meet each other." Although she acknowledges it can also be dangerous, she does not elaborate. She decribes numerous subcultures including the "emo" which replaces goth which involves lots of music videos and morose discussion of death and sadness. The teen preference for txt messaging to email is because, she says, the latter is too formal. Says Pascoe, "When I talk to kids they often say they text all thru classes, lunch and after school...they feel naked and lost without it...". The latter sounds like addiction to me and a recipe for bad grades. At the very least, tough teaching challenges. She also sees nothing wrong with teens "subverting the authority of the classroom" because "teens have so little control over their lives".

Release of this study was, I believe, carefully timed to avoid any serious restriction to business as usual in the aftermath of the disappearance and death last month of 15-year-old Brandon Crisp who ran away from his Barrie, Ont. home after his father barred him, for the 20th time, from playing a violent, war game online, once he began to skip school to continue playing. This is a very familiar pattern in the cyclical release of studies in general into the public domain. It is what enables committee chairs like Roy McMurtry and Alvin Curling who just released their Roots to Youth Violence Report, to conclude that the research on the subject is "inconclusive".

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Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chair: C-CAVE and the Media Working Group - Science for Peace (University of Toronto)
Editor- The Learning Edge
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication