From the stuffiness of the cinema and phone booth to the open networks of YouTube and mobiles: While one generation grew up using media in closed spaces, another generation is right now growing up acting and thinking in open networks. How do we, the adults, understand and, just as importantly, speak to the first generation of the network society?

While many adults know the distinction between “new media” and “old media”,  they do not always know what is new and different about their children’s media use. Accordingly we, the adults, need to approach the new generation’s media use differently to how our own parents did when dealing with us. At conferences, meetings and events, awareness raisers often function as a mediator between children and adults describing what the “media use generational divide” means. But how do you actually explain to other adults what is so different from when we were young with the cinema and magazines and today when children have mobiles and the internet?  How do we emphasise the importance of approaching children’s media use from a “new” perspective?

With the convergence between media services and forms, the distinction between old media and new media is becoming less relevant by the day. However, there is still a great difference between “old media use” and “new media use”. And most of the time this is also the difference between how children use media and adults use media.  While children have grown up with digital online media as an integrated element of their everyday lives, adults had to get accustomed to the new online world at a much later stage of their lives and thus speak the digital language with an “accent”. And this is not just a difference between how adults and children actually use media, it is also a difference between the way we understand and think about media and in the end between how we fundamentally approach and think about the world around us differently.and different about their children’s media use. Accordingly we, the adults, need to approach the new generation’s media use differently to how our own parents did when dealing with us. At conferences, meetings and events, awareness raisers often function as a mediator between children and adults describing what the “media use generational divide” means. But how do you actually expalin to other adults what is so different from when we were young with the cinema and magazines and today when children have mobiles and the internet?  How do we emphasise the importance of approaching children’s media use from a “new” perspective?

While most children think in networks, adults think in “boxes”. If you sit inside a box you cannot see what is going on outside, and conversely no one on the outside can see what you are doing inside your box. There is a heavy distinction between being “inside” and “outside”, “privately in your box” or “publicly outside your box”. And if you want to get in touch with the outside world from your box, you’ll make a very conscious effort by picking up the phone for example to reach the outside world. And this of course influences your mode of thinking about the world.
Children however think in open networks. When life is online, there is no physical distinction between being inside and outside etc. Your box is simply non-existent. You do not need to make a conscious effort to go outside your box, because you are always “outside” via your mobile or internet connection. A network is a system of interconnected things. Things that influence each other in spite of physical borders – organised according to a set of different principles that are more cultural and social than they are anything else.

So what does a PHONE BOOTH have to do with all of this? When mediating between adults and children, we use the phone box as a metaphor for “old media use”. We create the image of the red phone boxes placed in the buzzing public sphere of the streets. Approximately 2400 of these red phone boxes are listed as heritage sites in England. If you step into one of these boxes and close the door, you will be completely sealed off from public life to make your private phone call.

Using the phone booth is “old media use” in a nutshell and significant of how we, the adults, used to use media in confined spaces when we were children: TV after dinner in the living room, cinema on Saturday nights in the dark cinema hall, 10 minutes talking on the telephone in the living room closely monitored by dad, the book in the living room armchair or in bed (with lights out at ten!), etc. Each medium had its specific place and time during the day, that is to say; a “box”, both physically and symbolically sealed of from the outside. Just like the phone booth where the “privacy” of the phone call is sealed off from the buzz of public life.But how many people nowadays use these phone booths? Today you have the mobile and you see people walking around on the streets absorbed in private conversations with no need whatsoever to be sealed off from the buzzing public life around them.

So, perhaps we should stay outside our boxes not just literally, but importantly also symbolically. Children are growing up in an environment characterised by its openness and accessibility and thus learn, understand and approach the world accordingly. If we the adults step outside our symbolic boxes of old media use and try to understand these new patterns of learning and coping with the world, we have an even greater chance of reaching the first generation on the internet.

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