Nigel Latta: Technology isn't the end of the world
The other day Education Minister Hekia Parata announced the Government was looking at students being able to do their schooling entirely online.
Already I've heard people saying this is terrible, this is the end of the world. What about social skills? Will it be the same as a real education? Blah blah blah.
Some people are saying it's good, some say it's bad - it's like the world isn't really sure.
I think it's a difference between kids and their parents really. Parents might have doubts, but I'm not sure their kids will. They might like the idea of controlling their own education, doing it at their own pace, getting interested in the things they're interested in.
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So once again the internet is opening up whole new ways of living that are quite foreign to the grown-ups. And that immediately causes concerns.
The thing about technology and the internet is that it's not necessarily good or bad, it's a thing - but there are both good and bad things that can come from it.
Technology affords young people opportunities that our generation never had.
There are whole new careers out there that we don't even know about yet.
For instance, there's a 22 year old who left his job in Auckland to become a Pokemon trainer. So this guy is paying his rent and buying his food off the basis of a career that not that long ago didn't exist and no one had even conceived of.
But without doubt there are also bad things.
A guy who basically spent his career in the police posing as a predator told me that the first question online predators will typically ask children is 'Who can see your screen?' And if the answer they get is, 'No one, I'm in my room', then the conversation shifts into a different gear.
Whereas if they say I'm sitting in the kitchen and my family's here, then they disappear and go off to find someone else. Things like that are super helpful to know as a parent.
There's also all the stuff around teenagers and their exposure to pornography and the potential downsides of that, because of the kind of messages it gives them about what's normal and what's not normal.
Because kids will send images of themselves to people, and that's kind of seen as being normal. And if your teenage daughter is sending pictures of herself to some teenage boy, what are the chances that those images are going to end up being sent to other people?
So there are some pretty big potential downsides to technology, and that's where I think sitting down to talk with your kids about all this stuff is super important.
You can't just make the assumption that they're behaving responsibly. You really need to talk to them about technology and the internet in the same way that parents in days gone by sat their kids down for the old 'birds and the bees' talk.
Don't just assume that they're not doing it, or that they won't do it, or that they've really thought through what putting stuff about themselves on the internet really means - because a lot of them haven't.
I've got a 16 year old and a 13 year old. They're really different.
One of my guys is into geography and history, so he predominantly uses the internet to get information about what he's interested in.
The other one's really into gaming, he plays games and talks to his friends online, all that kind of thing.
But he's also interested in coding and creating content, and so he goes off and uses the internet and YouTube to educate himself about how to make stuff.
So even within our house we have these two teenagers who both use the internet in very different ways. But I'm fine with it, because the way both of them use technology will be helpful to them in the long-term.
It doesn't bother me that my guy plays video games and talks to his friends online, because he knows stuff about the engines that drive the games and so I see that as him educating himself.
The evidence is really clear that your under-twos shouldn't be doing any of this, because screens aren't good for little kids - they're not good for their little brains.
But after that it's almost like kids are disadvantaged if they aren't able to learn how to navigate that world and use that technology.
I think we've always been scared of new things. And we've always been scared that the next new thing coming along was going to be the end of the world.
That was the case when people invented the printing press. Even Socrates said something similar about writing - like, that is definitely going to be the end of civilisation if we're writing stuff down, because human beings are just going to become monkeys.
Inevitably it isn't the end of the world, it' s just a change, just something different.
Kind if like how you can now carry all of human knowledge in your pocket.
Basically everything that human beings have ever done or achieved is right there.
Some people would say that's terrible because no one needs to know anything anymore - Google knows everything so you don't have to. But what it does is it makes all sorts of things possible now. The real skills are going to be how you use that information and that technology to create new solutions and to create things that weren't there before.
For young people I think technology is about possibilities, and where we can screw it up is if we become too scared and too fearful and we make assumptions about the internet and social media and we limit our kids based on those assumptions.
Because the next new thing could come out of Timaru, or it could come out of Manurewa, or it could come out of Kaitaia - just some kid sitting in their room with the laptop writing code. The next big thing. And that's pretty cool.
CASE STUDY: SARAH & ROBERT
Sarah is a typical teenage girl. "My phone is in my hand all the time," she says. "It's everything that connects me to everybody else."
Forty snapchats a day, 150 messages on messenger, 80-100 texts - this is normal activity for Sarah and her friends. "I'm checking my phone basically all day."
But what happens when that phone is taken away from her?
"It would definitely be a lot harder," she says, when asked to imagine a world without it.
So that's just what we do, separating Sarah from her phone for 24 hours.
"I feel real left out of everything," she says after just three hours.
"Some important famous person could have died and I'd have no clue."
"It was terrible," says Sarah when she finally gets her phone back. "I was kind of anxious. Like, walking places when I'm usually just on my phone. I had to walk and just... walk."
What we see happening with Sarah, is that when you take her phone away, you take away her connection with her peers and her world. And everything - everything - is done via her phone.
Some people would say, 'That's terrible, she can't survive for a day without her phone?' But most grown-ups are actually constantly checking emails and text messages as well.
Sarah's also hyper-connected with her friends - they're constantly talking about and arranging all sorts of things.
So when you take this little thing away it's like her connection to the entire world - her friends and the rest of it - disappears.
And then there's Robert. An aspiring professional gamer, this 15-year-old spends 12 hours a day gaming. And that's a school day mind - on the weekends it's more like 16 hours.
"I just enjoy it. A lot. It gives me a lot of pleasure. And I don't want to get rid of things that I enjoy," says Robert.
We could have long discussions over whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing.
On the not so good side you could say, well, he's inside, he's not outside. He's not with people, he's playing video games, and it's not real.
But on the other side there actually are people who make careers out of this stuff. And he is having contact with people - it's just online and with his friends who come over to play.
And how is that any different to the kid who spends hours and hours by himself at the park practicing kicking rugby balls because he wants to be an All Black?
* The Hard Stuff With Nigel Latta: Screenagers airs on Tuesday at 8.30 pm on TV ONE. The whole series is available to watch now on TVNZ OnDemand.
- Sunday Star Times