The Medium is the Message: Educating Generation M
Today’s young people (8 to 18 year olds) spend on average 7 hours and 38 minutes a day with media: watching TV (TV, videos, DVDs, pre-recorded shows), playing video games, listening to music, talking on the phone, and chatting with friends online, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation report Generation-M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds released on January 20, 2010. This is an hour more than the group found in 2004, when young people were found to spend nearly 6 and half hours a day on entertainment media. And because of multitasking, young people actually consume a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content in those hours.
That, indeed, is a lot of hours, practically all their waking hours outside school. In comparison, they spend 25 minutes a day reading books, 9 minutes for magazines, and 3 minutes for newspapers.
“The medium is the message,” said Marshal McLuhan. The heavy use of media by young people today undoubtedly has significant impact on their lives. While we contemplate the profound impact of media use, I have three immediate reactions to these findings:
First, it may be futile to simply consider how parents and educators should find ways to limit media use by children. Nor is it productive to argue whether it is good or bad. As Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston who directs the Center on Media and Child Health, said in an interview with the New York Times, we should just “accept it as part of children’s environment, like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”
Second, given the migration to modern media, the education establishment, schools, textbook publishers, government education agencies, policy makers, teachers, and parents, must consider how to deliver educational content using new media. Apparently, the print medium is becoming increasingly irrelevant to our children but is still the primary platform for educational content delivery. To engage our children, we must use their platform. And that requires major transformative actions and efforts.
Third, we should also prepare our children to become media producers, not only consumers. With an estimated annual revenue of over 1 trillion dollars, the Media and Entertainment industry has already become a significant economic sector in our society. In addition, in our daily lives, we will be much more likely to use modern media for communications, socializing, and conducting businesses. The ability to create media products and use media to participate in social and business activities has become essential in this new world. But unfortunately, most of our schools underestimate the importance and complexities of media literacy, often reducing it to the teaching of technical skills.
There is a lot more to media literacy or what I call digital competence than the technical skills. In my book, I define “digital competence” as:
- Knowledge of the nature of the virtual world
- Understanding the differences and connections between the physical and virtual worlds; the ability to tell fantasy from reality.
- Understanding that the virtual world is dependent upon technology and that all technology can break and things can go wrong.
- Understanding that online/virtual activities are fundamentally psychological.
- Understanding data representation in the virtual world and how different media work together.
- Understanding data management in the virtual world and basic file structures
- Understanding that the virtual world is a global network of individual and collective participants
- Understanding that the virtual world is evolving and constantly expanding.
- Positive attitude toward the virtual world
- Appreciation of the complexity and uncertainty of the virtual world
- Positive attitude toward technical problems
- Effective strategies to approach technical problems (knowing where and how to obtain assistance)
- Effective strategies to learn new ways of communication and information sharing
- Ability to use different tools to participate and lead in the virtual world
- Ability to use different tools to participate and lead online communities
- Ability to use different tools to entertain, learn, and work
- Ability to use different tools to obtain and share information
- Ability to create products for the virtual world
- Ability to use different tools to express views in the virtual world
- Ability to use different tools to create products (such as music, digital games)
- Ability to use different tools to create, manage, and lead online communities
- Ability to launch, manage, and promote businesses in the virtual world?
To do any of these requires a shift in thinking, requires us to accept that world our children live in and will live in has changed. How and what we should teach them should also change. But the current education policy priorities are clearly not on preparing our children to enter this changed new world. The Common Core standards and the Race to the Top funds seem to have completely missed the reality of today’s children and the future world they will enter.