November 27, 2012

Book Review: Talking Back to Facebook

Talking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital AgeTalking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age

by James P. Steyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

James Steyer, acclaimed founder of Common Sense Media, has written often in articles and websites on the affect that social networks are having on our children. In his latest book, Talking Back to Facebook (Scribner 2012), Steyer discusses worries on every parent’s mind about the social media engulfing our children.

With so much of education and play time revolving around digital devices like iPads, computers, Wii, apps, and more, parents have a right to be concerned and should question whether this tsunamic trend is healthy for a child’s developing cognitive and psychological functions. Steyer’s premise is that the obsession with Facebook and its ilk, as it seeps into younger and younger age groups, can be dangerous and must be controlled. To support his hypothesis, he covers important topics such as:

  • Self image
  • Addiction issues
  • Your child’s brain on computer
  • Loss of privacy
  • Why your child is at risk
  • The end of innocence
  • Embracing the positives of digital media
  • Kids as data to marketers

He also provides a much-needed guide for parents on digital media topics their children face at different ages and what parents can/should do about it, including:

  • An age specific summary
  • What parents want to know
  • What parents need to know

Pleasantly, much of his advice is common sense. Moderation is good. Extremes are bad. Pay attention to your child’s life. Don’t be afraid to step in. He gives parents permission to trust their instincts and create rules/guidelines for the digital natives they are raising. His approach in dispensing advice is to act as a mentor–a trusted adult from whom we seek advice. Rather than a pros-and-con factual summary of available information, he chooses data that supports his hypothesis. I’m not denigrating this approach. It’s one of two common approaches by which we-all arrive at a conclusion:

  • Deductive reasoning–look at all the facts and draw a conclusion
  • Inductive reasoning–state a hypothesis and do the research to prove (or disprove) it. Of course, if Steyer had disproved his premise, he wouldn’t have written the book

For as long as man has problem-solved (which could be as long as a million years, but I’ll leave that factoid to the paleoanthropologists), we have used either deductive or inductive reasoning. I’m fine with his use of inductive. What made me scratch my head a few times was what he considered ‘supporting evidence’:

  • I don’t know why Chelsea Clinton is qualified to write the forward on a book about parenting and social media. What is her expertise? I was left wondering if it was her celebrity.
  • I have to believe there are more reliable sources on technology in education than (page 85). ISTE comes to mind. How about the Department of Education?
  • Too often (which in my case is more than twice), Steyer made broad statements and/or cognitive leaps that he presented as commonly-accepted facts, not bothering with proof. Yes, we as parents may believe them, but we’re reading the book to buttress our argument. For example:

In Egypt…one of the most important leaders of the movement that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak after nearly three decades of dictatorial rule was a Google executive who posted key messages on the Internet that helped coalesce the protests. (pg. 85)

Really? I’ve never read that before. My mind is open, but where’s the proof? Here’s another:

…in 2004, Google announced it would digitize all the books in the world. That was a cool idea. But the company didn’t bother to ask the permission of the authors who wrote those books… Google folks apparently failed to consider or at least underestimated the intellectual property and personal ownership issues involved… (pg. 89)

Am I supposed to believe a behemoth like Google figured no one would notice their infringement on intellectual property laws around since 1978 (or longer)? Prove this and I’ll pull all my books from Google Play. He provides no proof.

In fairness to Steyer, there are many times he provided evidence from sources everyone would accept as legitimate. Maybe the above examples are simply bad editing–he could have cleaned them up, but Scribner didn’t think it necessary. Who knows? What I do know is their presence in an otherwise exemplary book casts doubt on his agenda in writing the book.

In the end, though the premise of the book is manifestly believable, empirical evidence is lacking at critical moments. For the reader to reach Steyer’s conclusions often requires a high level of trust in the author’s words and logic. That’s why I gave it three stars. That rating notwithstanding: Read it. Draw your own conclusions. You’ll benefit from thinking through these topics and hearing this man’s point of view.

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Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for and TeacherHUB, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to TeachHUB and Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.