Parents, do you find your children spending precious time online, which you fear would hamper social interaction? Just put aside your fears for a while and read this. A Northwestern University researcher feels otherwise, after she spent valuable 7 years, observing an online club of 3000 youngsters between 10 to 16 years. According to Justine Cassel, professor of communication studies and director of the Program on Technology and Social Behavior at Northwestern University, the involvement of youngsters in online communities today is qualitatively, not quantitatively, different than it was a generation ago,"
The annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) which will take place at St. Louis will witness the presentation made by Justine about these findings.
According to her, today’s technology buffs prefer to engage in social activities in front of the computer screen rather than attending meetings in School Gymnasiums or sitting around campfires. By observing and studying the online community from the 1998 summit of youngsters from 139 countries, with entirely different social backgrounds, she and her colleagues David Huffaker of Northwestern University and Dona Tversky of Stanford University found that the youngsters showed extreme civic involvement and cared passionately about their communities and the world. It was startling to find that there were no barriers to communication despite the distance, or the fact that they were not face to face, and surely without any form of adult involvement. The children exchanged ideas in this online forum about how technology can change the lives of the young. They were able to even pick the leaders among the community to represent the group in a personal meeting with political and corporate heads from all over the world.
According to Cassel, "While other studies have reported that leadership in the online world is similar to leadership in the off-line or physical world, those studies have been based on the behaviors of adult technology users, we have found that young leaders using technology do not necessarily reproduce adult styles of leadership."
Infact, Cassell and her colleagues were able to sense the prospective leader in the group after observing the style of language. In Cassel’s finding, she appeared to notice the importance given by the community members to skills of persuasion, and the ability to interact and connect to people, in order to achieve a purpose. The paper, titled "Youth Leadership Online: A New Paradigm for Civic Participation" presented by Cassel is part of an AAAS panel on teenagers and technology.