Niños y adolescentes en Internet

The new digital gap is not the one between parents and children

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Up to now the digital gap existed mainly between parents and children, between teenagers and adults, between those called the “digital natives” and the “digital immigrants”. Nevertheless, this is quickly changing. Nowadays there are many adults and parents who use ICTs. Most of them use e-mails everyday, participate in WhatsApp groups with their friends, download apps to their smartphones and tablets, upload photos to Pinterest or Instagram, etc.

On the other hand, we observe that many young people and teenagers are not actually becoming “2.0 users”, which would allow them to truly capitalise on the possibilities offered by ICTs. Many teenagers and university students use ICTs simply as consumers. They spend hours chatting on WhatsApp, they send e-mails and look information up to prepare their schoolwork, and they upload pictures to social media – although this is done less often now. This means that, in the end, they are not doing many different things and don’t have much more knowledge than adults and parents who are 30 or 40 years old. They are not creating, they are not generating contents that contribute with value to the Web. Very few of them use blogs, upload essays or material, develop web spaces, create discussion groups in forums or social media, etc.

The “classic” digital gap, the gap that still separates many teenagers from older people still exists. Another gap that still exists is the one separating those who have access to ICTs and those who don’t, although it is quickly becoming smaller. But these forms of digital gap tend to disappear… they are fading out quicker than we expected. The true DIGITAL GAP, the gap that will become increasingly obvious and that is constantly growing is the one that separates “digital consumers” from “digital producers”. Regardless of age and of economic resources, within the same country, we find everyday people using the Internet in a productive and creative way, generating contents, generating opinions, conveying ideas, creating new proposals and spaces, etc. And at the same time we see the growing multitude of people who only “consume the Internet”. They chat, they read the newspaper, they check their bank accounts, they do their shopping and upload pictures from their holidays, they have an e-mail address and use WhatsApp everyday, and some of them comment on what they do on Twitter… And this represents a great progress. The problem is that for many people and many social and governmental strata this may seem the goal, the purpose. And this should NOT be the goal. We need to take a step further and really seize on the possibilities offered by the Web 2.0.

The mobile connectivity, the radical drop in the age at which users start using ICTs, tablets and smartphones have created the necessary environment to train and educate a generation of children who can totally change the Web. Children that may be educated participating in the “activity”, the “creativity” and the “creation” of contents, ideas and movements that may end up transforming education and the society in which they live. Traditional education will fail if it only uses ICTs to simply reproduce the same ways and contents in a digital format, if it only turns schoolbook pages into PDFs, or if ICTs are only used to present a PowerPoint presentation in class. Individualised learning, collaborative work, research, the students’ participation in content generation can all be easily done today thanks to ICTs. But this will depend on what we do.

Until the 21st century children could only learn from their direct environment, and they could only interact and enrich that very environment. Now they can learn from anywhere in the world, as they already have access to it. What a child says or does on the Internet may have an impact on another child in a very different part of the world.

The society should educate children so that they can create and generate many things. They can be a key element for transformation. And this is now more possible than ever, and they want to participate, they do not want to be treated as simple consumers, but they need adults to get involved. Permanent and mobile connectivity offers us a great opportunity.

 

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