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Playing the future

Tan said he makes a conscious effort to seek out only the positive from the Net. "The Net is a stage that facilitates positive and negative things. I have chosen to do positive things on the Internet, therefore the Internet is positive to me."

But the teenager acknowledged that activities such as chatting online can be addictive and all-consuming. Some even regard their online lives as more important than their real lives. "Real life is always tough and confusing, especially for young people. Online lives are more flexible, convenient and safer. Parents who try to limit a child's chatting time online will find it very, very tough. These teenagers may have discussed their deepest secrets, or may have gone through challenging periods in life together," said Tan.

There is also a tendency to be irresponsible for one's online actions. "There is often little to pay for making mistakes, for crossing lines. Somehow, in our minds, we tend to feel that the people who meet online are less 'real', and tend to be less careful and analytical with what we tell others," he said.

However, Tan qualified that not all talk on the Net by teenagers is bad. The Net has, in fact, proved to be an important platform for teenagers to voice their views on youth concerns and "adult" issues such as world peace and nuclear disarmament.

Tan is part of a global team behind the creation of Nation1, a totally youth-run virtual country that aims to empower young people globally via the Internet. The project was borne out of MIT Media Lab's Junior Summits, which had selected about 3,000 children between the ages 10 and 16, spanning 139 countries and varied socio-economic levels, to converge online to discuss their dreams, hopes and concerns for the future.

Last November, Tan spoke on behalf of the group when he presented the Declaration of Nation1 from Boston to the United Nation's General Assembly in New York via a satellite video link.

Tan believed that there is no other better and easier way to bring the collective voices of teenagers together. "No one can stop this, no one should even try to stop this. The youth movement is spreading to kids and teens through the Internet. It can be used to push their agenda. The power of the masses, and the reluctance for youth to remain silent anymore, will be a force for change," he said.

In Rushkoff's new introduction of the 1999 edition of "Playing The Future", released last month, he asked adults to suspend, momentarily, their grown-up function as role models and educators.

"Let's appreciate the natural adaptive skills demonstrated by kids and look to them for answers to some of our own problems. Kids are our test sample--our advance scouts. They are already the thing that we must become," he wrote.

Brave advice for a brave new world. The question then is not whether teenagers are ready--but whether we are.

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Digital kids

The Net as playground

It's teen spirit!

Playing the future

Authors On Teens

Playing the future: what we can learn from digital kids
By Douglas Rushkoff 
Review on above book 
Growing up digital
By Don Tapscott 
Review on above book 

More Web Links

A reminiscence of the Nineties
Another award-winning Web site by Gerald Tan and friends 

MP3 2000
Web site founded by a 14-year-old 

Wonders of the Web, a 15-year-old's perspective about the online world
From Teenworld 

Gerald Tan's personal homepage
From Teenworld 

Young Voices, AT&T Virtual Classroom Grand Prize Winner 1998-99
Virtual Classroom 


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