Weekend Tech Scan: How to protect kids from tech overload

Two experts offer pointed suggestions on how we can protect our kids from getting lost in today's technology. Also, commercial-free TV viewing and the Xbox "pilot" rumor was true, but so what?
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Two experts offer pointed suggestions on how we can protect our kids from getting lost in today's technology. Also, commercial-free TV viewing and the Xbox "pilot" rumor was true, but so what?

A new book by Jim Steyer, Stanford University professor and founder and CEO of Common Sense Media might well be at the top of the reading list for parents trying to figure out some rules of the road for dealing with their kids and their use of tech.

I haven’t had a chance to read the book, “Talking Back to Facebook,” but Friday morning on MSNBC-TV’s Morning Joe program, Steyer talked with show hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski about some pragmatic steps that parents can take to get a handle on what their kids are doing, and better understand that the online world must be lived with, not just blocked out.

Here's a video clip of the interview (with thanks to MSNBC for the link).

The importance of understanding how Facebook and Twitter work, making sure kids use their technology in public spaces within the home, and other rules of the road seem to be eminently sensible ways for parents to channel technology use by their kids and not be run over by it.

It’s not quite as simple these days as it was in the pre-computer days when I was a kid, when banning comic books and absolute parental TV control were seen as big steps to keep the home — and me — safe.  Like that worked — not!

On a similar theme, a recent video clip on the excellent TED website examined the need for an online 9-1-1 to help kids in trouble whose main form of communication is texting.  (My thanks to my wife for discovering this.)

Consider the following statistic from Nancy Lublin, CEO and Chief Old Person at DoSomething.org: The average teenager these days sends 3,339 texts a month. “Txting is really the best way to communicate with your kids — perhaps the only way to communicate with your kids,” she noted, which drew an appreciative chuckle from the audience attending her talk last February at the TED conference in California. (Here's a brief video excerpt from that talk.)

While DoSomething is generally focused on getting kids to focus on issues they care passionately about, it also is the recipient of texts from kids who have no one else to talk to: a kid who doesn’t want to go to school because other kids call him “faggot,” another who talks about cutting herself , or a girl who says of her father, “He won’t stop raping me.”

Lublin speaks of the need for a texting-based crisis hotline for kids experiencing these kinds of issues.  It would be private, real time, and could help kids in a crisis with crisis management and referrals.  Equally important, however, would be the unfiltered, real time data from that kind of service about what kids are really experiencing that could be useful to the institutions in our society dedicated to protecting our kid: police, schools, and, of course, parents.

Perhaps some Seattleite interested in starting a tech business might find this an eminently fruitful and socially responsible idea. Let me know if you do.

In other news, once again, someone has come up with the killer solution for viewing your recorded TV shows with the commercials removed. This time it’s Dish Network, the satellite-based service, that is now offering commercial-free TV: a service that supposedly skips over commercials for many recorded prime time HDTV shows from the four major U.S. TV networks. The feature requires having the Dish Hopper set-top box/DVR installed in your home. It costs an additional $10 a month plus a $99 one-time fee.

According to the company, prime time shows from the four networks are automatically recorded in a Dish Prime Time Anytime “library” on your DVR. Shows becoms available for  commercial-free viewing anytime after 10 p.m. PDT locally.

You must trigger the “anytime” feature each time before you play back a show with no commercials.  Commercial-less programs will become available locally only after 10 p.m.  At this time, the service only applies to the four networks.

Dish’s standard DVRs already feature a 30-second “hop forward” feature for any TV show that lets you jump to the next viewable program portion, but with less accuracy than the new service. They’re also less expensive: a $6 monthly fee and no set-up charge.

Dish also announced this week that its subscribers will have access to all their programming on the iPad, including premium services such as HBO, as well as rentable online movies from Blockbuster (now owned by Dish).

Much of this new technology comes from Dish-owned Sling Media, the company that makes it possible for any cable service to be seen on virtually any laptop or mobile device throughout your home or on the road. I’m a big Sling fan and have frequently written about the service.

Dish’s new service will make for both interesting viewing, severe gnashing of teeth among broadcasters who hate the idea of any viewer bypassing their commercials, and probably cadres of attorneys frothing at the mouth for a chance to be hired by the broadcasters to stop this monster in its tracks. Those of you who watch on-demand programming from your cable providers know that you’re mostly blocked from fast-forwarding through commercials. They want you to watch those spots, damn it!

So what do the broadcasters try to do if this innovation from Dish gets successful?

Stay tuned.

Finally, the rumor about Microsoft making an Xbox gaming console available for $99, along with a Kinect voice/hand motion control and with a two-year $15 per month contract, came true this past week, but not without a fair amount of criticism.

As quoted in PC World, this is a pilot program. Apparently, this pilot is flying a tiny plane: the offer is only available in 16 of Microsoft’s 21 brick and mortar stores (including Microsoft's outlets in Bellevue and the University District).

Moreover, PC World continues, if you go for the plan, you’ll pay $459 over your two-year contract commitment for the console, which includes the Windows Live subscription, Microsoft’s media services plan that gives your Xbox the ability to download gaming and music apps, movies, and TV shows. But you still need to pay for the individual pieces. PC’s World’s advice: Buy your Xbox up front instead of going with a two-year contract — and/or wait until next year when you might be able to buy a new Xbox console—if that rumor is true.

Then there’s the rumor that the Xbox will soon include an Internet Explorer 9 web browser that will possibly interact with the Kinect motion controller and Microsoft’s Bing search engine service. Ummm ... wouldn’t that mean that users would need a keyboard to make any reasonable use of the browser?


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