When we first decided to write, we struggled with publishing a traditional book or a web book. Given how the “onlife world” is constantly changing, we feared the contents of a traditionally published book would quickly become outdated. For those who have never heard of the term “onlife world”, it was originally coined by Professor Luciano Floridi at the University of Oxford, to describe the impact of information and communications technologies upon the human condition. Unlike the Boomer generation who still see a difference between the online and offline world, today’s generation does not recognize this difference, thus why the phrase “onlife world” is so appropriate.
In the past, we have published an award-winning paper book using a professional publishing company, but this time we decided to go it alone and be our own editor and publisher. We also wanted to learn a new skill and trust us, this was a learning experience. As this is our first self-published web book, please be kind to us, as we are sure there will be grammatical and editorial challenges that we missed.
Given the constant state of change in the onlife world, we decided to publish our thoughts in this web book, which will allow us to constantly update its content as the field of digital literacy continues to develop and change. Because of this constant change, we wanted to ensure that the specific principles of social media safety, security, online privacy, and digital literacy could be applied in diverse onlife situations. We also wanted to write a book that was “enlightening” and not “frightening”, based upon good evidence-based peer-reviewed academic research, and not fear-based moral panic.
Too often, those in our field concentrate on the bad, rather than the good of social media, which creates a parental moral panic that does nothing to support our teens online. Yes, there are some onlife challenges and dangers that parents, and our kids, need to be aware of that we will speak to in this web book. However, we will provide the reader with evidence that there is more good happening online with our kids than bad, and we parents need to start recognizing and acknowledging this fact. It is very interesting to see how teens have recognized some of the safety concerns that we will be speaking to in this web book, and are now creating “safer” self/peer-based moderated communities that offer a sense of positive validation and belonging without judgment. Rather than depending upon a social media vendor to keep them safer, they are taking agency and doing it themselves on platforms such as Twitch and Discord.
Experience has shown us, that youth who become good digital citizens, will have an advantage when it comes to university and employment opportunities of the future. We parents need to help shepherd the digital literacy process, but in order to do so, we need to understand the onlife word together.
Is the sky really falling when it comes to our kids and social media? Parents, let evidence-based research, rather than emotion, guide us in our onlife journey with our kids to answer this important question; that is the goal of this web-book.
We want to emphasize that it has been our experience that the majority of our kids, contrary to what you may have read in the media, are doing super uber cool things online, and we adults need to start acknowledging this fact. It is a fact that in today’s onife world youth are using the power of digital media and technology to explore, connect, create, and learn in ways we only dreamed of. We know that some of you will not agree with some of the content that we will be sharing, but we believe that after reading this web-book it might help you to change your mind. Sure there are some bad places online, and yes some teens are engaged in online mischief, but the majority are not, and again we parents need to start acknowledging this fact.
One of the challenges that parents face when it comes to technology is something known as the “parental digital divide”. Many of today’s pre-teens and teens are digitally acclimated to the onlife world because they were born and raised with technology. Today’s generation of teens, known as Generation Z, or Gen-Z, do not recognize the difference between the online and offline world. To Gen-Z, it’s just one world, or what Professor Luciano Floridi called the “onlife world”.
It’s hard to believe that the first iPhone was released on June 29th, 2007. However, we parents, especially us Boomers, a term coined by Gen-Z to describe parents even those who are not baby boomers. Parents are often seen to be digitally assimilated newcomers who still see a difference between the online and offline world. This digital divide can often create anxiety in parents and caregivers, primarily because of the fear of the unknown, or what we older adults perceive to be the unmediated nature of the onlife world.
Brandon is a millennial who is very active in the digital world. Onlife parenting of our son was a new challenge that we had no experience with. The onlife world for our parents did not exist when we were teens, so we could not turn to them for advice. By default, we have parented the onlife world by trial and error, and we want you to learn from our experiences. What is encouraging, the digital divide with today’s millennials will be much smaller when raising their kids. Why, because unlike us, they will be able to apply their own experiences of having participated in the onlife world as a youth.
Remember, our role as a parent when it comes to shepherding and mentoring our kids about tech and the onlife world – prepare them for their future, and not the realities of our past. “Back in my day we didn’t have cellphones” is not a phrase that has relevance in today’s onlife world. As Gary Kimbrough stated in a tweet:
“Intergenerational carping is one of our great human traditions as parents, like storytelling, or artwork. With it, we relieve anxiety around aging and mortality and congratulate ourselves on being better than our replacements. The young may inherit the earth, but we will tell them they’re doing it wrong until our very last breaths.”
Just because our kids have been raised and digitally acclimated to the onlife world does not mean they are digitally literate. Often Gen-Z lack the life experience to apply digital literacy, and that is something that parents and caregivers can bring to family discussions surrounding the onlife world. Yes, Gen-Z has the digital tools, and generally the know-how to make them work, but the question is can they use them appropriately and reasonably?