SAN FRANCISCO -- The future of cyberspace is debating its masters, with computer industry movers and shakers fielding questions from their younger consumers: teenagers. 'When are you guys going to realize that we're not idiots and realize we like the same things that adults do?' asks a kid in Detroit. Though Apple Inc. had planned for a live Internet gathering on Wednesday to be a chance for kids nationwide to participate, some 'Cyber-Kids' say their questions aren't taken seriously. Questions and answers circled the globe, with the aid of Apple's QuickTime Live Internet video software, from a panel discussion San Francisco's MacWorld convention, held Jan. 9 to Jan. 12. The discussion was moderated by 14-year-old Alex Hempton, a San Diegan who has carved out an entrepreneurial niche for himself as publisher of eWorld's Youth Central. He was the only participant not old enough to vote. eWorld is Apple's online commercial service. Though a lot of software and Internet sites are geared toward minors, as far as kids' online expectations, 'we're not really delivering,' says Peter Friedman, vice president and general manager of Apple Internet Services. 'There's a lot for kids, but not enough by kids.' Despite talk of the need for factoring kids into the cyberspace equation, adult participants talked more about parent and teacher involvement in what kids consume online. Phrases like 'academically tested' and 'parent approved' don't go over well with some cyber- savvy young people. 'I thought they were patronizing,' said Francine Mastini Robino, co-publisher of Youth Tech, an online youth magazine.
In defense of parental guidance on the 'Net, 'It's not that we don't trust our kids,' says Marissa Kacmarsky, media lab manager at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif. 'We don't trust people out there on the 'Net.' Issues of parental control aside, 'Cyber-Kids' are not some embryonic cyberforce awaiting the future. They are fully involved in the present. Kacmarsky says kids who volunteer at the museum are highly valued. 'It's much easier to teach a teenager than a 40-year-old volunteer. It really is,' she says. 'Ten-year-olds were using Macromedia Director. I know adults who can't do that in a month.' Macromedia Director is a multimedia authoring tool. The questions kept coming: 'Do you ever worry that your new media will just teach children about Madonna and Melrose Place? Will the government be spying on us? How many kids do you have on your boards of directors? How do I know when I'm researching on the Web that I'm not downloading fiction? Parents, industry leaders and educators are still debating whether or not teens' 'Net access is actually helping to educate young minds. Dan'l Lewin, executive vice president of Kidsoft poses the fundamental question: Is school 'a place to teach people for an economic system or is it a place to teach people how to learn? Even those basic philosophical differences haven't been resolved.' They may be 'Net-literate, but these cyber-kids shun the computer geek stereotype and lead active lives offline. In addition to his online responsibilities, Hempton makes time for cross country running, volunteer activities and student government. 'We have lives outside of school,' says Suzy Levine, the 13-year- old publisher of Girls Online. One budding programmer in attendance at the panel said he couldn't make MacWorld yet, but says he'll ditch school on Friday to do so.