by the New York Times' Matt Richtel examines how computers are used for entertainment by kids of different social classes, and how much. But to me, its message is
Parents disapprove of what their children use computers for.
And the article goes on to talk about local and state programs in the United States that teach "how to apply for jobs online or use filters to block children from seeing online pornography," the former being considered an okay use of computers and the latter being considered a not-okay one.
I am personally not just skeptical, but fearful of attempts to control what children use their computers for. Because I was raised in a physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive household, and having unrestricted computer and Internet access -- and a door I could close and lock when I needed to -- literally saved my life. Until then I was trapped in an information bubble by my parents and their church, and thought I was a terrible, broken person because I didn't measure up to their standards.
Material online about free software advocacy, inclusion of disabled and marginalized people, and yes, even some erotic content, helped show me that the world outside wasn't the terrible place they made it out to be. That being different was not bad, and that I was not a bad person.
Disney's Tangled is a disturbingly true-to-life portrayal of an emotionally abusive, controlling relationship. Click here if you cannot see the embedded video.
The parent-child bond is believed to be inviolable in the country where I live, to the point where it (along with Somalia and South Sudan) is one of the only nations that has yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Any intervention parents make on behalf of their children, here, is assumed to be made out of love and a greater understanding than the child herself has. Parents are seen as heroes just for the act of parenting, and abusers are seen as grotesque villains who don't love their kids, not as parents who mis-
love their kids. Or who love them but use them to gratify themselves in some way that hurts them. Or who try to love them into becoming someone they're not, and drive them to despair and suicide when they realize they'll never become that.
Whether it's meant to or not, the belief that parents can do no wrong (and that abusive parents are easily recognized) locks children into abusive situations, and shuts down legitimate pleas for redress. It empowers people like my abusers, marginalizes their victims, and gives them little or no recourse or even sympathy. They may even doubt themselves, like I did, instead of recognizing what is done to them for the tragedy that it is.
as people. We need to let them find what they want to do and are most passionate about, not assume that we know better than them right down to their choice of OS or web browser. And instead of taking their toys away, we should give them the tools to make new ones, and show them how to use those tools in a way that they understand.
With that in mind, I'd like to point out this quote from the article:
“Despite the educational potential of computers, the reality is that their use for education or meaningful content creation is minuscule compared to their use for pure entertainment,” said Vicky Rideout, author of the decade-long Kaiser study.
I take exception with the word "meaningful," there, and the implication that "pure entertainment" can't be educational. But she's right that it's much easier to use computers to play games or enjoy existing content than to create new things with them, because of how complex the content-creation tools are and how hard it is to get started with them and in their communities.
To take just one example, computer games have evolved far past the point they were at when I started playing them, where you had to read the whole manual before playing and understand advanced math to win.
Today's games like World of Warcraft are enormously complex, and have entire books written about their inner workings,
but are so accessible that many can just pick up and play them and start having fun right away.
What's the learning curve for the GIMP like? Inkscape? LibreOffice? GNOME development? These are all amazing tools, but the time and effort it takes to learn even basic proficiency with them remains a barrier to reaching new users and potential contributors. The biggest thing motivating me to surmount that last one right now is the thought that the work I do will help flatten the curve for others, and let them start kicking tail fast enough that they learn whether or not they have a passion for it before they burn out.
Graph by Kathy Sierra, licensed CC-NC-SA.
I'm extremely grateful to my mentor
in the OPW program for helping me get started with the GNOME developer documentation project, and keep from burning out on it. And I'm extremely excited about initiatives like this and Mozilla's Webmaker,
which are teaching people basic code literacy and helping increase the number of potential users of and contributors to the shared commons of free software.