Using fresh news stories can be a great way for parents to spark discussions with their kids and teens about how to be a good cyber citizen. “Table Talk” is a series on Breaking Free, passing along recent headlines about Internet temptations and dangers. Use the questions provided to get your family thinking about Internet safety and responsibility.
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When flashmobs become violent
In the digital age, perhaps nothing is more bizarre and creative than a well-executed flashmob. For those of you who haven’t seen one in action, YouTube is full of good examples (here, here, and here, for instance). Whether it’s a hundred people gathering in London for a spontaneous pillow fight, a thousand people meeting in New York to silently dance to the beat of their own MP3 players, or two hundred people converging on a furniture store to gawk at sofas, these seemingly pointless acts of entertainment are sweeping the world.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a flashmob as “a public gathering of complete strangers, organized via the Internet or mobile phone, who perform a pointless act and then disperse again.” Usually the point of a flashmob is to invoke laughter and bewilderment from onlookers.
Many flashmobs are harmless. (Sam Leith of The Telegraph eloquently says “it does flip a shiny silver coin of pointlessness into the fountain of modern life.”) But unfortunately, recent flashmobs have caused great concerns. This summer some flashmobs have attracted violence in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Ottawa, Germantown, and London. Those with malicious intent can exploit the anonymity of crowds to plan robberies, cause general chaos, or start riots.
What role does the Internet play in all of this? Of course Facebook and Twitter don’t start flashmobs: the people who use these communication networks are the instigators. But there is no doubt social media is an indispensible tool. Everett Gillison, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for public safety, says, “What is making this unique today is the social media aspect. They can communicate and congregate at a moment’s notice. That can overwhelm any municipality.” And now thanks to sites like YouTube, the disenfranchised can later post videos of their flashmob exploits for all the world to see out of a desire to achieve some sense of fame.
- What do you think of non-violent flashmobs? Annoying? Harmless fun? A nuisance? A sign of something unique to our digital culture?
- Why do you think people start or join flashmobs? What motivates them?
- How much is Facebook and Twitter and texting to blame for the violence of flashmobs?
The World Wide Web turned 20 this month
On August 6, 1991, a computer scientist named Tim Berners-Lee gave birth to what we call the World Wide Web. This was the date the very first website went online.
Don’t confuse WWW with “the Internet.” The two are not the same. The Internet is the system of networks that connect one computer to another computer to pass along information. The WWW is just one method of communication that can be done over the Internet. (This PCMag article explain it all).
Berners-Lee published the project proposal for the WWW in March 1989: a new system for managing online information through the use of hypertext. About a year later he finished the first browser, running on a NeXT cube (see a picture of the web server that changed the world forever).
In 20 short years, the WWW has grown from 1 website to 350 million registered web domains.
- What technology changes (social networking, e-mail, text messaging, etc.) have you seen in your lifetime?
- Can you image a world without the World Wide Web? Think of all the ways we use the Internet. How would our lives be different if the Web were to disappear?
Teenage girls hooked to cell phones, even while sleeping
A recent survey by Best Enemies Education in Australia reveals 80% of teen girls actually sleep with their cell phones, and 50% tuck their phones under their pillows and set them to vibrate. Chief executive of Best Enemies, Ross Bark, said students were so obsessed with Facebook and texting they were checking messages until very late.
Australian girls aren’t unique in this. 84% of American teens with cell phones sleep with the phone on or near the bed. On average, teens send or receive 3,339 texts per month: that’s more than 6 texts per hour they are awake. Nearly a third of texting teens who take their phones to school send text messages every day during class time. In general, among U.S. mobile subscribers, almost 60% of time spent on mobile Internet is for social networking sites like Facebook.
- Do you notice a general obsession among your peers to always be “connected” through their mobile devices?
- Would you or your friends ever think something like, “I would be totally lost without my cell phone”?
- Why do you think some people feel like they can’t be away from their mobile device?
- What would happen if you or your friends decided to go on a “mobile fast” for a week?