Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Online Public Spaces for Children

The Media Awareness Network “Talk Media” blog is a space where librarians, teachers, parents and media scholars can share the latest media news, trends and resources ( In the April 13, 2010 posting, Matthew Johnson wondered why we have no public spaces for children in the online world.

He writes, “New York's Gramercy Park is a curious institution: two acres of fenced-in greenspace that is accessible only to those who own the houses surrounding the park. (Non-residents must either stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel or join the Players Club or National Arts Club if they want to visit, and each of these institutions has a limited number of park keys.) Private parks like it are the exception, of course, not the rule: since the days of Frederick Law Olmsted, who campaigned for and designed city parks across North America (Central Park, in New York, and Montreal's Mount Royal Park among them) we have come to expect most of our recreational spaces to be public…The near-universality of public parks and playgrounds in our physical spaces makes it all the more striking that the online world contains almost no spaces that are genuinely public.”

Johnson argues that online services like Facebook, Google, Hotmail, and Youtube are pseudo-public spaces; they are for-profit services that go to great lengths to seem like a public space. Johnson concludes with these questions: “If Gramercy Park had been the model for our municipal parks -- if we had to pay to let our children use them, whether directly in money, indirectly through advertising or data collection, or a mixture of both -- would we stand for it? Or would we demand that our governments provide true public spaces where all our children could play?”

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