Digital Youth that I am, I was recently asked to speak at Google Zeitgeist Europe 2007 on the Digital Youth panel. Truth to tell, I felt rather old among the other speakers at the ripe old age of 30. You could see the audience were feeling old too. They had a "oh my, those young folks" sort of expression written all over their faces. Google Zeitgeist Europe is an invitation only conference to "thought leaders", mostly business people, where emerging trends and topics of interest are discussed, mostly by ridiculously rich and successful people (such as the CEOs of Google, Easyjet and Orange) . Not my usual crowd, then. I was surprised, though, that two of the panels were similar in theme to the Computer Assisted Learning conference in Dublin in March: the developing world and user generated content. Back to digital youth. The other panel members were Josh Spear, Michael and Zochi Birch (founders of Bebo) and Yat Siu, who the CEO of a games company which does Hello Kitty online games. Jonathan Zittrain did an excellent job of moderating the panel and occasionally gently winding up the panelists. A lot of the time when I give talks I will be trying to convince teachers or educators that living in a digital world isn't going to rot children's brains or corrupt their morals. On this particular occasion I felt myself getting middle aged very rapidly. I think I was channeling my mum at one point. Two of the talks on the panel painted a picture of what a digital youth is, and what sort of lifestyle such a person might lead. The resulting picture of them digital youths was not attractive to my eyes. Short attention span? Hard to impress? Materialistic? That strikes me as a little harsh on the young 'uns who seem to display the opposite characteristics when working on creative tasks. The teenagers who come to my Gamemaker workshops are as keen as being a teenager will allow them to be. They enter a flow state and concentrate incredibly hard for long periods (to the puzzlement of the organiser from the local authority who doesn't like computers, I suspect). In making storylines for their games, they do wrestle with moral issues to surprising degree (see http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~judy/papers/RobertsonGoodEdutainment06.pdf for example storylines).
One particular example digital youth activity worried me a lot. It was about a dating web site where people can set up games for other people to get to know them with. The example was a girl who set up a game asking people to improve her. Great. Because teenagers need more social pressure about their appearance/habits/personality, don't they? This example also worried some parents in the audience, so I was glad I challenged it.
This of course lead to some questions from the audience about whose responsibility it is to educate children/young people about internet safety and so on. It's everyone's responsibility to discuss these issues with children. If it takes a whole village to raise a child then it should take parents, teachers AND the whole community of internet companies to raise a digital youth.
The video of me at the event is here.