Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier

Website review by
Carla Thornton, Common Sense Media
Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier Website Poster Image
Thought-provoking PBS site weighs Internet's pros and cons.

Parents say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this website.

Positive messages

Tech-savvy kids born after the advent of the Internet have never known anything but a plugged-in life. By sharing how people of all ages and backgrounds are adapting to an increasingly digital world, the site can help kids think more critically about their own consumption of technology. Is the Internet mostly good or bad for us -- or a little of both? Is it dehumanizing or a breakthrough way to socialize and learn? Parents might not personally approve of every view here, but the voices are balanced and used to inform rather than dictate, ultimately helping families make their own decisions about how much they will let technology shape their lives.  

Violence

Twice-removed links to gruesome photos of Iraqi body parts. Excerpts from Taliban recruitment videos showing soldiers on a cliff machine-gunning unseen Americans below. Realistic-looking virtual characters crumpling to the floor after being shot.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this site is for any parent who has ever wondered how hours spent on the computer, iPod, and cell phone are affecting their kids mentally and physically. Digital Nation the Web site is the staging area for a new PBS documentary about how the Internet has changed the world. The site features hundreds of interviews with individuals ranging from tweens and teens to parents, young marrieds and experts on education, health, psychology, and the military, all offering a different perspective. The site is aimed mostly at adults, but aside from some slightly disturbing combat simulations, there's nothing here grade schoolers can't watch and learn from. Kids will be especially interested in the segments on video game addiction, love and friendship on the Web, and cyberbullying.

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Is it any good?

In 2009, PBS correspondents traveled the country asking people how the Internet has shaped their lives. This site features the raw video footage being gathered for DIGITAL NATION, a new documentary set to air in February 2010, and it's absolutely riveting.

When we visited in October 2009, there was an annoying technical problem; the videos' audio lagged by several seconds like a badly dubbed movie.  But the content transcends this temporary glitch and confirms, surprises, heartens, and sometimes frightens with its revelations. For instance, many kids today indeed have shortened attention spans, but surprise: some high schools have raised test scores by handing out laptops. The stories are by turns chilling -- like desk jockeys in Nevada operating unmanned Predator drones over Afghanistan -- and lovely, such as the teenagers who meet and become real-life friends after chatting online for six years. If these are the rough cuts, the finished documentary should be terrific.

Online interaction: Leaving comments after the videos is the only way to  interact with others on the site, and the few comments posted when we visited shortly after launch in October 2009 were civil, thoughtful responses to the content. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Some kids say it's easier to be themselves online than it is in real life. Why might this be so, and how can kids do a better job of developing their social selves in the real world?

  • Can kids go for an hour, an evening or an entire weekend without the computer? What non-digital activities could they enjoy instead?   

  • Some kids think it's OK to post personal info online because no one but their friends will see it. Are they right or wrong? What are the possible consequences of sharing comments, photos, or videos that contain too much personal information? Read our tips for protecting privacy online.

Website details

For kids who love hanging out online

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