Quelques extraits de

" Growing up digital,

the rise of the net generation" de Don Tapscott, Ed McGraw-Hill, 98

The "Attention Span of a Gnat"?

Conventional wisdom says that because children are multitasking&emdash;jumping from one computer-based activity to another&emdash;their attention span is being reduced. "Most kids have the attention span of a gnat," complains one observer.

The research does not support this view. It is ironic that it is often the same people who charge that today's kids are becoming glued to the screen that also say they have lost their attention span.

A more thoughtful view comes from demographer Eric Miller. "Kids hate to be bored. This is no joke; it is a real issue. They have shorter attention spans, are used to a diet of highly stimulating visual information. From an early age they are gratified instantly and so have less patience for delay of any kind." True, they are used to a Stimulating environment. True also, kids hate to be bored. This is not surprising, given that they are more knowledgeable, likely smarter and more active than their boomer parents. Interaction with the digital media is many things but it is not boring&emdash;perhaps explaining why so many of the Growing Up Digital kids said TV was boring by comparison. But, as for instant gratification and short attention spans&emdash;at best, loaded terms&emdash;the evidence isn't there.

"I don't buy that these kids have short attention spans," says Dr. Idit Harel, author of the book Children Designers and founder of MaMaMedia. "They think in different ways than adults. Sometimes they are multitasking. Other times they can get into something and spend many hours on it if it makes sense to them."

All young children are easily distracted and focus on problems for short periods of time, but attention improves with age. Teachers are often told to plan classroom activities and lessons according to the age-plus-five-minutes formula. That is to say a typical six-year-old first-grader can be expected to stay on one task for about eleven minutes.

At the root of concerns about attention span is the fear that our children will not be able to focus on something and therefore not learn. This concern is consistent with the view that students need to be able to absorb a specific curriculum as the primary challenge of learning. However, it is not new thinking that the content of a particular lesson is one of the least important elements in education. What is more important is learning how to learn. John Dewey said this well many years ago when he wrote, "Perhaps the greatest fallacy is the notion that a person learns only what he is studying at the time. Collateral learning . . . may be, and often is, more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history."

Moreover, it appears that by using the digital media, children become more able to ignore inappropriate sources of information and concentrate on the information which is essential for doing something, such as completing a task. Central to attention is adaptability&emdash;the ability to adapt their attention to the particular requirements of the situation. Another is planfulness&emdash;the ability to allocate attention according to a goal and sequence acts ahead of time. Rather than killing attention, it makes more sense to view experience with multiple information sources as it occurs on the Net, as helpful in developing this capability. For example, in researching a project on pollution, the child must take multiple steps: evaluate information along the way; organize findings through cutting from digital documents or creating bookmarks; postpone action in favor of an alternative; coordinate many different activities; segue out to a chat line to check on friends and then cycle back to the project; allocate time; remember a previous experience or site: overall control, adaptation, and planfulness&emdash;the key elements in the development of attention.

The preceding example involves working on a school project, but the same can be said for the free-time entertainment activities of children on the Net which all involve similar actions and attentiveness. Compare this type of activity to the child watching television. The child's attention span may appear good as he sits in front of the TV for an hour. But is this really developing the skills necessary for attention development? Overall, the evidence is that the digital media as not a problem to be concerned with, but instead a boon to children's development.

Sometimes Kids Are Cruel

Kids face substantial problems at any school&emdash;rural, urban or suburban, private or public. If there isn't a real threat of drugs, sexual abuse, and/or violence, the fear of these things is transferred from adults and the fear itself becomes a threat. K-12 students also have concerns that are completely separate from the concerns of adults. "By the time children reach school age," a typical child psychology text notes, "they have mastered two essential concepts: that human beings are alike in being both agents of external events and experiencers of internal events, and that human beings are different in their experience of events. One's own internal state may not accurately predict those another person would experience in the same situation." What this means is that kids at this stage notice similarity and difference, and it also means that they can respond to their perceptions with compassion, cruelty, or indifference.

Regardless of how individual kids respond, the social picture is not a pretty one. In the United States, it is estimated that as many as 3 million children are bullied each year and every day over 100,000 kids stay home from school because they are afraid of one of their peers. Countless other children experience merciless teasing because of their height, weight, skin color, fashion sense, or hair style. sometimes kids are cruel to each other and it is the responsibility of adults not to forget that it is neither fair nor easy for kids to deal with.

If face - to-face interaction is no t always a positive experience for this generation, do children behave differently on the Net ? Initial experience would suggest that while there are many new sources of support and encouragement, chat-line interaction can sometimes be tough.

"Tons of people get bullied on the Net," observes Reanna Alder, 15. "It's not true that just because you don't HAVE to reveal anything about yourself, you won't get picked on. If you get noticed in a positive way you will also, most likely at some point, get picked on in a negative way. And besides, most people want to reveal things about themselves, and if you don't you get ignored. If you make everything up, you can still be picked on." Some children, however, reveal little of themselves, instead constructing their ideal self. Ted McCoy, 18, of Calgary, Alberta, says on the Net kids create "masks" which make it hard for them to bully each other, "because nobody would ever reveal the points that make them vulnerable.

He was really popular. All the other popular kids thought it was funny. It might be funny for them, but it is NOT fun for me. This kid would do everything from throwing snowballs at me from inside the room, to throwing me up against the wall. Luckily, I don't get this treatment s anymore because they think it's boring. All that happens now is they mouth off to me. Don't be mean. Be nice and earn friends by being nice. Don't earn friends by beating up people. Don't be the bully. Be the peacemaker

DET, 12, m, FreeZoner

While the digital media is a vehicle for these kids to change the. world, it is also a reflection of the world the way it is. Fifteen-year-old Kelly Richards explains: "I think that there's a certain amount of freedom from violence, but not completely. You can always delete messages with violence, or completely ignore them, but they're still there. There is no escape from violence anywhere, even on the Net."

The kids all note that such violence is not physical. Says Colin Cowsert Hinrichs, 11, of Houston, Texas, "I think that in a way, it isn't as bad on the Net because in real life (not that the Net isn't real) you can receive physical and mental harm. Chances are someone is going to stick up for you. It's just not the same psychological thing as in real life!" Darpa Crewe, 16, agrees: "You can't always just walk away from harm in the real world . . . but on the Net . . . you can only receive mental harm. And besides that . . . you can just go somewhere else . . . or ignore them completely. Or if you get really mad you can just hit that nice power button that is SO effective! :)"

In the school yard or streets, racism, sexism, discrimination based on socioeconomic status, and the cult of beauty have historically been a physical basis for identifying those to be ostracized or brutalized. Does the Net eliminate this, leading to a new era of cooperation among children? Fifteen-year-old Deanna Perry of Flonda says: "In chat sessions, people are judged not on looks or skin color, but by their personality. The Internet provides an alternative, a place without racism or prejudice. It's not as easy to make prejudiced comments about someone online when you cannot physicallv see them."