Links to Think

Links to Think: 13.02.18

February 18, 2013


How the Internet Reinforces Inequality in the Real World – I’m currently researching some travel options overseas. We want to experience a somewhat realistic glimpse of the country, but I’m often left wondering if using the Internet as my means of research and planning will leave me with a very different view of the country than if we just step off the plane and tried to find connections. Consequentially, this article was particularly fascinating to me–asking some important questions that not only examine the way the Internet affects life abroad, but how it also serves to reinforce many of the inequalities here in our own towns and cities.

“Every technological innovation today around a new smart-phone app or web platform improving quality of life in citiescomes with a caveat. What about the people who can’t access those tools? What about the people on the other side of the digital divide who lack access to home computers, Internet connections, unlimited data plans? These are the people who go “unmapped” in the geoweb.”

“There are at least three ways to think about all of this digital information about real-world places in the geoweb. What types of content are out there layered over a city (FourSquare check-ins at its restaurants, Wikipedia pages about its parks, geotagged tweets from its residents)? Where is that content coming from (who’s writing those Wikipedia pages, those tweets)? And who’s looking at it all? “Basically,” Graham says, “how visible are the digital shadows of cities?””

“And we can see similar patterns – sometimes deceptive ones – emerged in the tweets from New York City during Hurricane Sandy. During the storm, the densest quantity of Sandy-related tweets emerged from Manhattan, relative to other boroughs of the city. But that doesn’t mean that Manhattan suffered the worst damage; rather, that it often produces the largest quantity of data. It’s easy to conflate the two, though, which is why maps often equate with power.”

“All of this information, Graham stresses, doesn’t exist in some kind of virtual world that’s separate from the real one. The two are intimately intertwined: We use digital information to navigate and understand the physical world, and in turn our experiences of place impact how we then contribute to the information about them. When we use this information (by, for example, clicking on a restaurant on Google Maps), we are often simultaneously consumers and producers of it (that single click is another data point in Google’s vast machine). All of this means that the geoweb may not just be reinforcing real-world inequalities. In many ways, it’s also enabling us to have dramatically difference experiences of the same places.”

Stress-Less Parenting: What Everyone Can Learn From Lazy French Mothers – Pamela Druckerman (of Bringing up Bébé, review here) writes the first in a Huffington Post Parenting Club series. While I’m sure my French-borne and French friends could clarify whether or not “the French way” is so obviously black and white, I can definitely agree with the overall message of the article.

“By now it’s a cliché that American families are in a bit of hurry. From my daughter’s first birthday, friends and family back in the U.S. began sending her electronic alphabet games and boxes of flash cards. (My French neighbors didn’t know what these were.) On trips back to the U.S., I watched parents monologue endlessly to their toddlers as they bumbled around playgrounds. (French parents tend to sit on the perimeter while children play by themselves). It seems obvious to us that the sooner kids can pass through developmental milestones, the better, and that it’s up to us grown-ups to grease the process.

The competitive rush continues for older kids. Social scientists who camp out in middle-class households observe “the hurried lifestyle” in which life is ruled by activity charts on color-coded white boards. Sociologist Annette Lareau describes a typical American family in which, “on any given weeknight or weekend day, one, two or sometimes all three of the boys have events, often at different times and in different parts of town.”

We Americans have reasons for subjecting ourselves to all this busyness — and the stress that inevitably comes with it. I heard about studies showing that poor kids fall behind in school because they didn’t get enough stimulation early on. Surely that means middle-class kids could benefit from more stimulation too? And we have a vague sense that arming kids with lots of skills from extracurriculars will lead to better outcomes — or that they might fall behind their peers if we don’t sign them up.”

“However, recent research lands on the side of the French. Extracurriculars are fine in moderation. But kids need lots of free time too. “‘Play’ (or some available free time in the case of older children or adolescents) is essential to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth,” a study in the journal Pediatrics explains. Brain research calls the notion that the more you stimulate little kids, the smarter they’ll be, a “neuromyth.” Apparently, teaching preschoolers lots of reading and math takes time away from the things their brains are most primed to learn at that age — like how to concentrate and get along with other people.”

“Perhaps our mistake in America isn’t all those tennis lessons. It’s being so focused on outcomes, we’ve forgotten that the quality of the 18 or so years we spend living en famille matters too. I personally plan to spend as much of that time as possible in cafés, while my children play.”


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