Friday, June 01, 2007


Last fall I attended the Nebraska Library Association annual convention at the Qwest Center in Omaha. I'm on the Hastings Public Library board of trustees and this is the second year in a row I've gone to the convention.

This year the keynote speaker was a guy from Dynix. Dynix provides the catalogue software our library uses. He was fascinating. His main point was to get the middle-aged librarians to embrace technology and understand the younger technosavvy generation.

He called the kiddos native-internet users. They have always had the internet. Like a native English speaker I was never taught to conjugate the verb "walk." I was immersed in English speaking culture and when I was able to speak I said, "I walk but he walks." That's how kids are with computers and the net. Nobody taught them (in a way they will ever remember) how to move a mouse and left click or right click. They've always done it.

I wish I had recorded the whole thing because I think about it a lot and would love to hear it again. The one thing that struck me as a parent was this: He said that it has been a trend for educational-minded parents to keep their kids away from video games, but at this point in history, parents who do that are actually doing a disservice to their children. Children will need internet/gaming skills to operate effectively in this world we are creating for them.


He's got a point there. I use the internet for everything. It is my main source of information, of correspondence, shopping, whathaveyou. And website are only going to have more and more graphics and game-like interfaces.

My mom sent each of my kids a Webkinz. They are stuffed animals--cute, normal stuffed animals. BUT they come with a secret code. You log onto the Webkins site, punch in your secret code and adopt your cyber pet--the online counterpoint to your stuffie. At first this sounded like WAAAAY more trouble than it would be worth to get the kids hooked into this.

Then I remembered the Dynix guy. And I thought of what the world will look like when these guys are in highschool. And I remembered the bank of computers at the library.

Last week we rode bikes to the library and they each adopted their pets (and found a cockatiel on the way home). It was laborious. It took a long time for each of them to sign up, establish a profile, come up with usernames and passwords--all for ME to remember. But we did it.

Last night I called the library and reserved a computer for each of them at 9:30. It's been raining all day, which made it perfect. Their computers were all in a row. After I got Phoebe logged on she didn't need any help--reading is a magical thing--she could figure it all out. I got Mo and Ollie logged on and pulled up a chair between them.

They spent an hour playing games to earn Webkinz Cash, which they'd use at the W Store to buy food, furniture, clothes, wallpaper, whatever for their Webkin. They gave their virtual pets baths, which was pretty cute. They did a mining game where if they found diamonds they had to decide if they wanted to keep the diamond or sell it for Webkinz cash.

The games were pretty silly--some Webkinz versions of Pong and Tetris. But I just kept thinking about how even if the games are un-educational, the computer-literacy gained is huge. Now Ollie knows that to close out of a screen or a dialogue box you hit the X or "okay." Moses knows that if you click on the rectangle with a little arrow you get a drop down menu then you click what you want to do. Phoebe knows if she gets to a screen she doesn't want she can always hit the "back" button. And they didn't even know they were learning anything. They've played games on the computer before, but this is the first web-based game exposure.

I questioned the money-focus of the games. It seemed a little iffy to me to have the point of everything be to earn cash and buy stuff. But it was all about choices. Am I going to buy wallpaper or food for my pet? Am I going to buy the $2000 bed that looks like a rocket or the $300 wood frame bed?

So, this will be one of our weekly summer activities. Webkinz. Who knew?


Steven said...

Way to take the technology by the mouses, Emily!
My parents gave me a scary looking Webkinz monkey (I've collected stuffed primates since 2nd grade) about a year ago. I've never gone online to officially adopt him, though. I agree there has to be something more educational than money -- but again, it gets them ready for capitalism . . .

Rhea said...

I'm kinda cynical about all the time kids spend online playing with Webkinz.