Beware the Bias

by Roger Pynn


Isn’t it interesting how what’s good for the goose still may not be good for the gander … even in these days we like to think of as enlightened and inclusive?  Consider this article from The New York Times telling us our government is about to get to the bottom of an alarming trend in which children from poorer families are “wasting far more time” than those of more well-off families as they gain access to devices for Internet access, television and video games.

Turn this around a second and you might just conclude that these children are catching up … that we’ve finally leveled the playing field and given them access to all the wonderful things technology provides … meaning they are no longer as deprived as many have worried for years.

There’s plenty of evidence that playing video games has real value for children (full disclosure, our firm represents video game maker Electronic Arts).  And, how many parents thank God every day for their children’s access to PBS’ award-winning children’s programming (more to disclose in that we also represent the team at the University of Central Florida responsible for saving public broadcasting here by giving birth to WUCF-TV)?

I’m grateful that there was no government initiative to put an end to the useless pursuits of my youth … including episodes of “The Lone Ranger,” countless rounds of Monopoly and those wasted hours hunched over a chess board.  On the other hand, you have to wonder whether I really gained anything from my fascination with storytelling, building a business and strategic thinking.

I’m all for getting children outdoors for exercise, and as someone consumed by promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) studies I get the whole thing about not letting young minds atrophy.  But it wasn’t too long ago we were talking about correcting the terrible inequity of lack of access to the Internet for children from underserved parts of society.

Now, the Federal Communications Commission wants to spend $200 million for a digital literacy corps that would teach the less fortunate “productive” uses of computers?

Wouldn’t that be the equivalent of having taught me how to find “The Lone Ranger” on TV or how to acquire properties when landing on Boardwalk?  If only we’d had a smarts squad to teach me the difference between white and black squares on the chess board.

What if they discover online, multi-level chess games played against opponents from all over the globe?  What a colossal waste of time that would be.

Do you think just maybe if we let them enjoy what the computers have to offer that these children and their families will figure it out for themselves?

To me, to answer “no” seems a terrible sign of bias.

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