Papers & Essays

Media Literacy

In response to the research conducted(i) by Benesse regarding junior high school students use of media, it is clear that most children are exposed to and have access to various types of media. Moreover, it seems that these children are bombarded with these various media tools, and it became even more apparent than ever, while reading this research, that these Japanese children need to be growing up in an environment that is media literate.
In the research, it provides a definition for media literacy as (1) media access, (2) gathering and selection of information, and (3) self expression. It states that media access is abundant at this point, and there needs to be more emphasis put on the gathering and selection of information and self expression. However, although I agree that the access to media is much easier, the mere fact that it is omnipresent, must be considered to be an enormous impact on children. This ties in with the gathering and selection of media, as with the abundance of media, how are children to learn to choose wisely? It now becomes not only an issue for the children, but also for the adults. Responsibility now lies not only on the teachers at school, but more on the adults who make this media available to children, and most importantly, on the parents. 
The amount and variation of media available to children is a great asset, if we look at only the productive types of media and those that educate these young minds. However, even as adults, we become annoyed by SPAM mail or other commercialized media that pops up on our computer screens, and the amount of poor quality media. In the US television history, there had been much research conducted on the effects of children's perception of commercials as they were tied into the programs, and after many years of research and advocating, we now hear the words to alert children that the following break will be taken to introduce a "commercial message". Some messages are clearer than others, as many of the TV shows now product their own toys. Unfortunately, it all comes down to monetary value. Thus, we can't really rely on the producers of the media as being responsible adults, although I'm sure some of them try and advocate for good quality media. So, we must depend on our teachers and parents to guide them into becoming media literate children.
Teachers can teach the children basic information so they can become wise choosers of their information and incorporate much of the technology into their own presentations or encourage children to higher levels of media use in their study materials. Recently, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that talked about children in the second grade using Power Point to make their presentations for their classmates on "their trip to the zoo". That seemed surprising to me and something didn't feel right. Shouldn't children be able to enjoy traditional types of media, such as drawing and writing? Aren't second graders supposed to still be learning penmanship and the effects of mixing colors with paint, or experimenting with the pressure of which they learn to use their writing instruments (which by the way is a different type of media). Well, I suppose, if they really wanted to use Power Point and do a presentation and incorporate all of the above stated, they would be able to draw their picture, title it and use a scanner to scan it in, download it into Power Point, and use it as an exhibit. How many parents or teachers would encourage them to do that? I hope a lot! Just using electronic media to do a presentation in second grade is not being media literate, but just media savvy.
This leads us to the point of self expression, and back to the junior high students in Japan. Self expression is learned beginning in infancy and we all know that the more positive interactions we encourage, the better communicators our children will be. It is discouraging to note that Japanese youth are said to be losing their written and spoken skills of communication. On a side note, I would like to mention that the Japanese language is unique in that there are various types of speech patterns designated to specific situations. There is the regular, the masculine (mostly used by males), the feminine (mostly used by females), the humble and the honorific. It seems unlikely that with a regular frequency of social interactions and communications, the younger generation would begin to lose their communication skills, especially when we see such young children (some even elementary school children) with cell phones in hand. 
The cell phone culture in Japan is much more advanced than in the US, with the designs of such phones competing by brand to be the sleekest, lightest and most loaded. Color capabilities are pretty much standard by now, and most already have a digital camera built into the phone. Thus, it serves as not only a communication tool, but like a PDA at the same time. Subsequently, Japanese cell phones have advanced text messaging capabilities, and many times, text is sent rather than calling. Moreover, they are not just sending text, but picture text, which are animated pictures resembling little icons like miniature clip art. When we explore the origins of Japanese characters, we know that they originated from pictures, which evolved into the characters. A combination of these characters has subtle meanings and the art of communication and literary eloquence is dependent on the various combinations of these characters. Without having to choose these characters and just stringing some picture icons together, the younger generation communicates their needs, wishes and possibly feelings. My concern is how deeply they are able to communicate these things. The language and way of communicating in Japanese is already indirect, and I wonder how much more elusive it could get. Could it be a cultural pathological phenomenon of manifesting avoidance and not facing true feelings or meanings of events and behaviors?
It is virtually impossible to jump to any conclusions without evidence, but it may not be too much of a stretch to say that there could be a connection between the lack of communication skills by young people today and the recent increase of incidents of bizarre acting out behaviors by youth. Although there could be beauty in being indirect and reading between the lines (or characters), it seems with the westernization of the Japanese culture, along with the increase in the speed of time (i.e. with the new technologies, it has been noted that relative to the amount of time available, there is an abundance of information accessible to each person, mainly in part due to the internet), there is a discrepancy in the style of communication and the lifestyle that most youth lead, and it seems that these are all the more reasons to opt for a more direct communication style. However, with the cell phone generation, it seems that this is becoming more evasive which is leading to a generation of youth who cannot express their feelings appropriately, perhaps due to the lack of appreciation of the complex structure of the Japanese language. Nevertheless, we all can attest to the fact that new technologies are here to stay and that they will keep getting more "convenient" and continue to permeate all aspects of our life, pushing out the traditional forms and styles of living to maintain some sort of homeostasis. Hence, it is imperative that we guide our youth to be wise decision makers and users of these become media literate. The first step is for the adults, especially parents, to discover these new technologies, challenge them when necessary and begin to use them to fit their lifestyle needs. Parents must incorporate these tools into their socialization and begin to foster an environment where children are exposed to the multitude of possibilities for using these instruments to explore the world around them. As they develop and adapt these new technologies they will be able to make wise choices and verbalize how they feel about such choices to form a more media literate individual. 
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