By Leslie Crawford
"Hellooooooo!!!! I say to my son, who isn't really there. A 13-year-old pod person is sitting at the kitchen table. My real son has escaped inside our laptop, and he is in there – a itty-bitty avatar version of himself -- battling monsters. In a moment, he's back at our kitchen table, but only long enough to toggle to Facebook, where he's checking updates from 10 minutes earlier.
"Come join me in the kitchen!" I say. "What remarkable three-dimensional features we have!" Nothing.
Sigh sigh sigh. Maybe the 60s mother’s lament was that her child couldn't be dragged away from yet another rerun of "Gilligan's Island." I've taken it as my cross to bear that my newly minted teenager is enthralled with all things digital. For years, he’s been begging me to join Facebook. No, I told him. Just look on Facebook, it’s in black and white: No one under 13.
"Everyone in my class is on Facebook, Mom!" Technically not true, but a majority of them already were (in fact, it's estimated 7.5 million users under 13 are on Facebook.) I'm one of those wanna-be Amish moms who has resisted every technological, screen-related thing in our house. (But my case against high-tech is hardly helped, since my husband is the editor of a tech magazine.)
Oy, the arguments. The counter-arguments! Finally, I relented, agreeing that on his 13th birthday he could join. As frosting on the cake when my son did join, I explained in annoying detail that anything he writes lives in perpetuity, that if gossip is bad at school then multiply that times 10,000 on Facebook, and that he needs to guard against cyber stranger danger.
While I was able to hold my finger in the social networking dam at least until my son reached adolescence, things don’t look so hopeful for my five year old. As reported by Fortune, at the recent NewSchools Venture Fund's Summit in Burlingame, California – an education summit, mind you – Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told his interviewer, investment capitalist John Doerr, that improving education and making the Internet more open are two of his passions. That's why he wants to open Facebook up to the under 13 set. " . . . "That will be a fight we take on at some point," he said. "My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age."
I don't really get how Facebook ties in with education. But Zuckerberg is the guy who started coding in sixth grade and, cutting college short, became a billionaire. So maybe he knows that hooking into social media right after learning to tie your shoe is essential for future-thinking tykes who hope to score a six-figure job. Maybe, too, Zuckerberg's envisioning a teeny-bopper version of Facebook like Club Penguin that will mostly protect young kids from all versions of social media boogie men, including online predators and the collection of personal data. (Likes: Thomas the Train. Dislikes: Dora the Explorer.)
All this doesn't address my biggest grievance and greatest heartbreak: real time lost to time online. That yet another shiny new digitized toy is being dangled in front of my children and every time they wander out there in cyberspace, mesmerized by the new offerings, I've lost them and sitting there in my house are a remnant of the fully interactive children I've learned to love so.