The cover of Anastasia Goodstein's Totally Wired, a guide to help parents unravel the tangle of iPods, cellphones, and laptops their children are planted squarely in the middle of, has a picture of a pretty teen in a white knitted cap sitting in a red leather chair, talking animatedly on the phone. Which is fine enough to let the reader know what's on the inside, but if you wanted to boil the book down to its very essence and put said essence on the cover instead, the book would look exactly like a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a plain, unassuming book with only the words DON'T PANIC on the cover.
Today's teens, Goodstein argues, are really no different from the hippies or the kids screaming over Elvis' dance moves on Ed Sullivan or kids listening to Michael Jackson on their Walkman. They're just doing what teens always do, but with more modern technology than their parents had.
Goodstein, who has worked extensively with teens, runs a website called Ypulse, a blog for teens in media and adult marketing pros. It provides news, entertainment, commentary, and resources that teens may find valuable and/or fun. Through her work, Goodstein concludes that the hype over out of control teens going wild on the web is mostly just that - hype. Most teens, she argues, don't want the whole world to watch their web activity. Their LiveJournals are mostly friends-only, where they discuss their days and make plans with their peers, and strangers are not welcome. Further, being connected to the web through IMs, blogs, and virtual games like Teen Second Life gives shy teens a chance to express themselves in a positive way.
Goodstein does caution parents, however, that teens often do not fully realize the public nature of the internet, and are often genuinely surprised when the photos and video they take or the things they write end up being seen by thousands of people. She gives several cautionary tales about teen girls videotaping themselves in sexually explicit situations (a subject about the hypersexualized climate in pop culture is also addressed) as well as humiliation of teen boys, the sad story of the "Star Wars kid," Ghyslain Raza, being the most notorious. Cyberbullying is also addressed, as well as steps taken to curb it.
Goodstein presents the various applications of technology teens use in a matter of fact, encouraging way, and by doing so illuminates the actual problems today's technology presents, once the overhyped fear of predators is minimized. Plagiarism and cheating techniques are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be, and bullying can be a lot more undercover. Making the internet accessible to all teens, even those without computers at home is a challenge for teachers as well (apart from not being as savvy as their students). Downloading illegal music is also a challenge for many parents, not only because it's difficult to stop, but because parents vividly remember their days of taping music off the radio and transferring their friends' albums onto cassette tapes, and have a difficult time explaining to their kids why downloading music is a totally different thing (it really isn't, the music just sounds a lot better). Goodstein suggests ways parents and teachers can get connected with today's teens, and interviews several parents with varying parenting styles about their kids' use of the internet and parental restrictions they place on its use.
On the whole, Totally Wired is an upbeat, enthusiastic look at the way teens use technology, and encourages parents to get involved with their kids' online lives. This, Goodstein believes, can translate into making strong connections with them in their offline lives as well.
by Anastasia Goodstein
March, 2007 by St. Martin's Press
Thursday, September 20, 2007