Frontline: Digital Nation – Life on the virtual frontier

Have a watch of this episode of Frontline, Digital Nation – Life on the Virtual Frontier, about Generation Web and their life in the ‘connected’ world:

“Within a single generation, digital media and the World Wide Web have transformed virtually every aspect of modern culture, from the way we learn and work to the ways in which we socialize and even conduct war. But is the technology moving faster than we can adapt to it? And is our 24/7 wired world causing us to lose as much as we’ve gained?

In Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier, FRONTLINE presents an in-depth exploration of what it means to be human in a 21st-century digital world. Continuing a line of investigation she began with the 2008 FRONTLINE report Growing Up Online, award-winning producer Rachel Dretzin embarks on a journey to understand the implications of living in a world consumed by technology and the impact that this constant connectivity may have on future generations. “I’m amazed at the things my kids are able to do online, but I’m also a little bit panicked when I realize that no one seems to know where all this technology is taking us, or its long-term effects,” says Dretzin”.

Well worth the time and effort to watch – if for no other reason that to understand what it is like for young people today to live in our contemporary wired culture.

Also, if you’re interested and didn’t get a chance to see the Virtual Revolution series of programmes on BBC2 over the last few weeks, check out the website here.

20 years on from the invention of the World Wide Web Dr Aleks Krotoski explores how it is reshaping almost every aspect of our lives. Joined by some of the web’s biggest names including the founders of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft and the web’s inventor – she explores how far the web has lived up to its early promise.

The founding father of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, believed his invention would remain an open frontier that nobody could own, and that it would take power from the few and give it to the many. Now, in a provocative, strongly authored argument, presenter Aleks Krotoski will re-assess utopian claims like these, made over many years by the digital revolution’s key innovators – and test them against the hard realities of the emerging Web today, exploring how the possibilities of the pure technology have been constrained, even distorted by the limitations of human nature.

Again, this is a really good series of programmes and well worth the time and effort to watch if you get the chance, especially the last one “Homo Interneticus?”.

These programmes raise a lot of questions for me – not just as a father, but also as a church leader.  How is connectivity changing Generation Web’s capacity to be disciples of Jesus?  How do we need to change the way we ‘do church’ in order to communicate truth to our kids and future generations?

For me, this is challenging stuff, and we can’t ignore it for too long or it will be too late.


3 thoughts on “Frontline: Digital Nation – Life on the virtual frontier

  1. In our life on the Virtual Frontier we regularly need to press the pause button and reflect. Otherwise the doomsday scenario of the old sci-fi stories comes true: computers will take over the world. The inevitability of "if you don’t set the priorities, they will be set for you – and they won’t be good ones" – also applies here, to our technology. Either we master it, or it will master us. And I refuse to give up my option to press that pause button…Reminds me of an amazing, somewhat ‘prophetic’ Newsweek article written by David Brooks way back in 2001:Time to Do Everything Except Think (NEWSWEEK, 30 April 2001)Multitasking, checking your e-mail, operating at peak RPMs: you’ve become addicted to wireless life – and it has a cost. By David Brooks (author of ‘Bobos in Paradise’)Somewhere up in the canopy of society, way above where normal folks live, there will soon be people who live in a state of perfect wirelessness. They’ll have mobile phones that download the Internet, check scores and trade stocks. They’ll have Palm handhelds that play music, transfer photos and get Global Positioning System readouts. They’ll have laptops on which they watch movies, listen to baseball games and check inventory back at the plant. In other words, every gadget they own will perform all the functions of all the other gadgets they own, and they will be able to do it all anywhere, any time….Never being out of touch means never being able to get away. But Wireless Man’s problem will be worse than that. His brain will have adapted to the tempo of wireless life. Every 15 seconds there is some new thing to respond to. Soon he has this little rhythm machine in his brain. He does everything fast. He answers e-mails fast and sloppily. He’s bought the fastest machines, and now the idea of waiting for something to download is a personal insult. His brain is operating at peak RPMs.(While on holiday:…) He sits amid nature’s grandeur and says, “It’s beautiful. But it’s not moving. I wonder if I got any new voice mails.” He’s addicted to the perpetual flux of the information networks. He craves his next data fix. He’s a speed freak, an info junkie. He wants to slow down, but can’t.Today’s business people live in an overcommunicated world. There are too many Web sites, too many reports, too many bits of information bidding for their attention. The successful ones are forced to become deft machete wielders in this jungle of communication. They ruthlessly cut away at all the extraneous data that are encroaching upon them. They speed through their tasks so they can cover as much ground as possible, answering dozens of e-mails at a sitting and scrolling past dozens more. After all, the main scarcity in their life is not money; it’s time. They guard every precious second, the way a desert wanderer guards his water.The problem with all this speed, and the frantic energy that is spent using time efficiently, is that it undermines creativity. After all, creativity is usually something that happens while you’re doing something else: when you’re in the shower your brain has time to noodle about and create odd connections that lead to new ideas. But if your brain is always multitasking, or responding to techno-prompts, there is no time or energy for undirected mental play. Furthermore, if you are consumed by the same information loop circulating around everyone else, you don’t have anything to stimulate you into thinking differently. You don’t have time to read the history book or the science book that may actually prompt you to see your own business in a new light. You don’t have access to unexpected knowledge. You’re just swept along in the same narrow current as everyone else, which is swift but not deep.So here’s how I’m going to get rich. I’m going to design a placebo machine. It’ll be a little gadget with voice recognition and everything. Wireless People will be able to log on and it will tell them they have no messages. After a while, they’ll get used to having no messages. They’ll be able to experience life instead of information. They’ll be able to reflect instead of react. My machine won’t even require batteries.


  2. Good comment, Ann – communication and media is getting faster and more ‘in your face’ all the time – and we are all, but especially our kids, becoming gadget junkies, addicted to a continuous stream of data and information that hits us on every front…..But there is a new train of thought that insists that this is not necessarily all bad. We, the older generation, see it as bad because we have seen the no-gadget world turn into the gadget world. Our kids, however, don’t see it that way – and growing evidence seems to support that the way young people learn in the wired world is not actually any worse than it was in the un-wired world – just different. The problem is the older generation, ie us, not adapting our teaching techniques quickly enough to keep up with our kids learning needs……In fact, it is now argued that the growing ‘collective intelligence’ – the dawn of the global mind – might actually enhance creativity rather than negate it. That in fact, it encourages collaborative working and reduces the promotion of the individual over the collective whole.Whether any advantages will balance the obvious disadvantages – I don’t know, only time will tell.But this is something I am very interested in at the moment – especially with respect to discipleship and the future of faith within the next and subsequent generations. How do we encourage our children to get close to God, when they won’t even sit still and concentrate for more than a few seconds, refuse to read books and can’t seem to do anything without having to be constantly entertained?It’s a challenge – and we have to find a way through it. Unfortunately, I don’t think insisting that our way is best if the solution! Kids are hardwired to rebel against their parents – its part of them gaining independence, developing their own sense of self – so I feel we need to find another way – that rides the prevailing culture but keeps Christ and his Kingdom values at the centre.BTW – Can I put my name on the waiting list for the placebo machine please? It sound like the gadget I need. Will they come in a range of colours and styles?


  3. These folks may well have the right idea:… :-) Sorry, that placebo machine hasn’t been invented yet… as far as I know!!The cell phone sleeping bag (see article) could be a good alternative though


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