Tech and the teenage mind (5×8 – 1/6/11)


The Consumer Electronics Show has opened and we’re getting a glimpse of the future — tablet computing. The hit so far has been over-the-air TV on your iPad . And Motorola has introduced a tablet that runs on Android. It’s all more competition for your attention. Are we up to it? PBS’ Miles O’Brien considers whether teens are paying a price for technology, or are their brains adapting in a way ours’ can’t… or won’t?

Here’s the longer piece O’Brien had on NewsHour last evening on the great brain rewiring.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, a 6-year old girl rang up $400 worth of apps on the iPod Touch her parents gave her over the holidays.

We welcome our new technical overlords.

Perhaps this is related; perhaps not. Children don’t play anymore, at least not in the messy way, the New York Times says.

For several years, studies and statistics have been mounting that suggest the culture of play in the United States is vanishing. Children spend far too much time in front of a screen, educators and parents lament — 7 hours 38 minutes a day on average, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation last year. And only one in five children live within walking distance (a half-mile) of a park or playground, according to a 2010 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control, making them even less inclined to frolic outdoors.

A Temple University professor argues we’ve driven the concept of “play” out of the kids.


High school teachers in Brainerd have added a new twist on the question of whether the “n word” should be taken out of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Brainerd Dispatch didn’t find anyone in favor of sanitizing the book.

“We here believe the N-word is a crucial part of the reality of the Deep South back in those years. Twain uses the N-word for a reason and it identifies the hypocrisy in those years in America. I think the late 1800s was full of this language and Twain’s use of satire strongly suggests he disapproved of society’s treatment of blacks. This has become a really good topic for discussion for my students and we have a good debates over this issue,” one teacher says.


A professor in the UK has been studying why boys and girls choirs have that “angelic” sound. There’s real science behind this. Unfortunately, there’s also real horror. Professor David Howard thinks his work (documented with some video here) could even help scientists to develop a synthetic choir. “Maybe you can get to the point where maybe the computer could be at the back of the choir,” he says.


How many children have gone without vaccines against disease because of the fear it contributes to autism? The most significant finding in the world of science today isn’t that the assertion is wrong, it’s that it came from an “elaborate fraud.”

Related: The site, Information is Beautiful, plots media scare stories that gain traction.



Aaron J. Brown has the honor of writing the MPR commentary this morning:

The first rule of Iron Range politics is that no matter your ideology or expertise, no matter if you are too fat or bullwhip skinny, even if the TV cameras catch you stumbling out of the bar, throwing up in the gutter and watching your spouse drive off in utter disgust (in your truck), when you get a mic near your mouth you must say these three words with crystal clarity and forceful exuberance:

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!

He argues that it’s really not about jobs as much as it is about inspiring people “who believe that success is won elsewhere, while failure lives in your neighborhood.”

Bonus: A St. Paul woman’s fight to keep the sidewalks clear:

(h/t: Ken Paulman)

Open thread: The new lawmakers (and the old ones, too) were elected more than two months ago. The legislative session started on Tuesday. There’s only one committee hearing today. Lawmakers are taking most of the rest of this week off. Should they?


Some in Congress blame part of Washington’s famous gridlock on abuse of the filibuster. It’s the tactic that allows one side or the other to insist on a supermajority vote on just about any issue. Should the Senate change the rules to make the filibuster less routine?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: What’s behind the increase in gasoline prices?

Second hour: An oncologist examines cancer through history to show how social attitudes and scientific understanding has dramatically changed.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: NPR’s Julie Rovner on Congress’ repeal of health care.

Second hour: An America Abroad documentary on Sudan.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: A special broadcast from National Geographic on the planet’s sustainability.

Second hour: The role of the explorer in the twenty-first century.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – — Nearly a quarter century ago, Bill Cooper took control of TCF Bank. He kept the bank independent and consistently profitable while many banks disappeared. But Cooper is nearing age 70 and TCF faces a potentially big revenue loss in its debit card business. Some analysts and investors wonder if the bank –the third biggest in the Twin Cities– could be sold. MPR’s Marty Moylan will have the story.

  • Just the concept of a “play date” should suggest that we have radically changed our culture over the last two decades.

  • John O.

    I would argue that “unstructured” play has been replaced by dance lessons, soccer, basketball, etc. that is structured, organized and comes with a price tag. Gone are the days where the neighborhood kids all got together to play pick-up games of baseball, basketball, football, etc.

    On more than one occasion, I have seen a group of kids playing a pick-up soccer game on a community field, only to have a park patrol come by and shoo them away because they did not have a permit to use the field. Kids that aren’t gifted with athleticism (and their parents who are paying the fees) learn fairly quickly that once their child is pigeon-holed as “not athletic,” the kid loses interest and retreats to the couch, the video games, and the pantry. Not necessarily in that order.

  • vjacobsen

    I would like to defend the play date, actually.

    With lots of households having both parents work, at least part of the time, and the fact that our children meet other kids at church, through mother’s groups, at school, it’s not always nice and neat that these moms and kids are always home and the kids can just walk over to their friends’ house to play. So we set up times for friends to visit. Is that really that bad? Do all of your friends live within walking distance of your house? I think not.

  • BJ

    In todays question they ask about over use of the senate filibuster. I don’t recall any stories about the actual use of a filibuster though. I hear about the threat of a filibuster or about getting a filibuster proof majority, but not an actual filibuster.

    So I post the question when was it actualy used and not just threatened to be used?

    I’m kind of suprised bob didn’t question the question. Or my days are spent reading the completly wrong things, and this whole post makes me look stupid(er).


  • Ryan V.

    As a child of the 80’s, Ijust now realized that my mother’s resistance to let us wander off by ourselves was largely because of Jacob Wetterling.