Saturday, September 3, 2011

Baby steps online

Cady Gray has been wanting her own Ravelry account for some time.  I've been posting her projects on my account, and she beams with pride at every "heart" (favorite mark) or comment they get.  About a year ago the Ravelry team floated the idea of a parent-monitored account especially for minor children, with the ability for the parent to see the child's activity and limit their access to parts of the site with potentially mature content.  But it doesn't appear that feature is anywhere on the near horizon, so after setting CG a goal that she met, I made an account for her.  I know the password and can log in as her anytime to see what she's posting and who she's talking to.

It's her first social networking account, or maybe second.  Earlier this summer I donated to a Kickstarter campaign for Tinkatolli and in return got a membership to that game-world for Cady Gray.  She can make "buddies" on that site and chat with them, and she takes very seriously the rules that are displayed to her while the game is loading (never give out personal information, be kind to other Tinkas).  The interactions delight her; every time somebody talks to her Tinka, invites her to their "pad" (a personal space you can decorate), or gives her a gift, she comes running to me bursting with happiness.

The same thing has happened on Ravelry.  I suggested she use her Tinka's name, and made her a Ravatar out of her Tinka's picture.  She looked forward from the moment of her first login to the welcome message she'd get from a Welcome Wagon member.  I suggested she post in the group for newbies, and when she received a reply or two, she clearly felt like a real Raveler.  She made a faux pas, posting a generic "hello" message on one of the Big 6 forums, and got some disagrees, which dismayed her.  I explained to her that anytime you come into a new situation, it takes a little experience to learn the rules (my example was the etiquette surrounding the tire swing on the school playground), and then I posted in the thread gently redirecting her to a more appropriate forum, and the thread was archived.  After listening in on some Harry Potter chatter in the Welcome Mat forum, she asked how she could get involved in some of the HP-related crafting being discussed, and received a kind explanation which she immediately relayed to me in great detail (as a newly minted expert on the Harry Potter Knitting and Crocheting House Cup).  When we searched for kids' groups, we came across Harry Potter Kids and Teens, which so perfectly fit her needs and desires that I thought her eyes would get stuck in permanently wide surprise.  Now she is reminding me that we need to move her projects to her notebook as soon as possible.

Both Ravelry and Tinkatolli are gentle introductions to social networking.  They have well-communicated boundaries and folkways that make them safe and unthreatening.  Members are fiercely protective of the hospitality of their community, vigilant at informal enforcement of rules against harassment and spamming, and vigorously work to isolate and remove those who don't adhere to its norms (through shunning, banning, and public shaming).  Such incidents are rare and are quickly shunted out of casual view by a vast army of volunteer moderators.  I have next to no concerns that she will encounter anything untoward from her fellow gamer-makers or fellow knitters, and I'm confident that she will tell me about anything confusing or concerning that might happen to her online.

Nevertheless, she has crossed a border that didn't exist when I was growing up.  I was a teenager when I started to get involved in BBSes -- the kind you dial up on your modem and log into individually -- and nobody knew anything about online safety.  I'm probably lucky I didn't get myself into trouble.  I'm sure there are seven-year-olds out there with Facebook pages; no reason to cross that bridge anytime soon in this house.  You all know that I'm an techno-optimist; treated with the proper respect and constructive attitude, the internet is no more dangerous to kids than a sidewalk or playground, and should be monitored but promoted in the same way: it's good to get outside, meet new friends, and be a part of the civic life of your community, as long as you know a few simple rules that allow you to do it safely.  I'm grateful that places like Tinkatoll and Ravelry exist; the playgrounds of the internet, if you will -- places largely free of commercial pressure, places with constructive purposes that promote healthy behaviors and self-images, places where kids can connect with others who share their interests, be inspired, invite and reciprocate friendships.  If there are bumps along the way, they are likely to be small, and they will be learning experiences for the bigger social challenges coming down the pike, both on- and offline.

(By the way: If you are a Raveler and friend of mine -- IRL or in cyberspace -- and would like to friend Cady Gray, please leave me a comment or shoot me a message through any convenient channel, and I'll give you her username.  The more of my wonderful friends who are part of her online life, the better.  Each new friend will give her immeasurable happiness, so please don't hesitate to make her day.)

No comments: