December 15, 2009

1 in 7 U.S. Teens Apparently Get Better Use Out of Their Phones Than I Do

The Washington Post continues its rapid and strange descent into a paper equivalent of the six o'clock news (now with more conservative columnists per square inch!).  It's almost comical to see an outmoded form of technology ring the clarion alarm bells about another newer form of technology.  The cloistered monks from The Name of the Rose were dead-on about how much trouble that scurrilous Johannes Gutenberg was going to be.  Mass-produced writing?  Why even the little boil-ridden plague children will be able to read, and then who wants to blindingly listen to the church for all matters great and small?  Not knowing that the fat lady has sung, WaPo continues to try to pump its daily and Sunday subscriptions by sending multiple mailers to me offering Saturdays and Sundays free.  Here's a thought.  How about I read for seven days a week free, and occasionally click on an ad, so I indirectly pay for content?  Since you layer in so many pop-up ads like a struggling porn site, it's almost unavoidable without an adblocker anyway.  Any business plan where you horribly cannibalize your own distribution model probably deserves to fail.  I know people in the newspaper biz, smart and hard-working folks without a doubt, none of whom deserve to get canned, but the obvious problem lies in the ad-generated Internet newspaper monetization model.  As this blog and a million other ones like it attest, content is cheap and ubiquitous, if not (in my case in particular) remotely as professionally rendered.  There are lots of interesting funding ideas for on-line newspapers, some of which I'll cover at a later date.  In the meantime, scaring parents and clucking about the scary "digital unknown" seems desperate and weak.

On to the article, which breathlessly states that "about 1 in 7 American teens with cellphones say they have received nude or nearly nude photos by text message, according to a new survey on the phenomenon known as 'sexting.'" Older teens were more likely to report sexting, with 30 percent of 17-year-olds saying they had received such photos, compared with 4 percent of 12-year-olds. 4 percent?  I can live with those odds.     And then there's the "Oh Noes!  Who Will Think of the Children" moment:
"It's a part of teens' lives. It's something they deal with, they grapple with, they talk about," says Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at Pew. "Even though the numbers are quite low, I think it is an important issue to be talking about."
   Sure.  Okay.  Thanks, Amanda.  I look forward to that conversation with my ten year old daughter. 

ME: "Honey, sit down over here for a minute.  Bring your phone."

HER: "What.  Why.  No.  Dad, you're embarrassing me."

ME:  "I haven't even told you what we're going to talk about yet."

HER:  "You're still embarrassing.  Totally.  Do you ever look in the mirror?  We'll talk after this Wizards of Waverly Place marathon finishes.  I promise."

ME: "Five minutes.  It's something we need to talk about, father to daughter." 

HER:  "I saw this episode before anyway.  What's the problem?  Something I should tell Mom?"

ME:  "Jesus Christ, no.  Sweetie, sometimes when two people like each other, they electronically transmit unclothed or nearly unclothed pictures of themselves or others for immediate download, file transfer, and forwarding.  The images can be associated with abbreviated text messages, usually containing truncated words and phrases which might be considered suggestive.   Do you ever think about this?"

HER:  "We're done here."

The final line of the article really shows the depth of the research:  "Among other findings, the report said teens with unlimited texting plans were more likely to receive nude photos or videos."  In other news, kids standing in water are more likely to get wet than kids that are not.

 Really, at the end of the day, all you can hope as a parent is that you imbued some common sense and self-awareness into your kids.  I'd rather my seventeen year old "sexts" over some of the horrendous, reprehensible shit I pulled at the same age.  Humbly speaking, I do my best to keep track of what's going on viz-a-viz external kid stimuli, but at a certain point, you need to place faith in a melange of trust, understanding, blind ignorance and accountable deniability.  And that's because technology, and those who benefit financially from its wide dissemination, are going to consider the Washington Post, helicopter parents, and anyone else in full-frontal "I must destroy that which I don't understand" Puritan mode as speed-bumps, not realistic obstacles.  Combine that with hormonal urges, teenage rebellion and angst, and natural surreptitious behavior, mix well, and try to relax.   

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