I was pleased to receive an email message this morning from Gill Smith, the Communications Officer here at the University of Bath. Gill’s ‘finely-tuned antenna‘ (a daily Google alert for news articles on “University of Bath” OR “Bath University” had alerted her to an article published on today’s Times (as an aside I should say how pleased I am that staff in our Corporate Communications department seem to be routinely making use of RSS).

Although I disagree with the title of the article – “How the Google generation thinks differently” – I am pleased with the second part of the byline: “Digital-age kids process information differently from parents. Our writer admits misjudging how her son was learning“.

The article describes the background to the story, which was published in the Women’s section (I mention this to make clarify that the article aims to give the perspective of a concerned parent rather than a scholarly article). In brief, the mother of a 15 year old boy is concerned that her son is spending a lot of time on the Internet, partly listening to music and chatting to friends and also doing his homework. As a journalist she spotted the opportunity for an article, which was based on reading the literature and talking to a number of experts in the field.

In our telephone interview I argued that (a) teenagers doing new things that parents didn’t really understand is nothing new and (b) the way teenagers use Google is not very antibiotics different from how the parents do – whether we’re professional in academia or in the press. And, indeed, Catherine admits in her article:

Google has been my godsend as a writer. Research that once required hours of trawling through reports and cuttings, and days of fielding calls to source experts, can be done in a few clicks of a mouse.

It seems that my advice that she should encourage her son to make use of the Internet, but to ensure that she advises him on best practices has been taken:

I recovered quickly enough from my hissy fit and returned my son’s laptop the next evening. The proof of the pudding would be in his results, I decided, and now that they have come in, I have to concede that the social networking/internet surfing/revision combo threw up no surprises. From the pleasing to the mediocre, his grades were predictable.

I’m pleased that the 15 minute phone interview had such a positive impact in the O’Brien household. And it’s even more pleasing that this may be read by the hundreds of thousands of readers of The Times 🙂


After I published this post I bought a hard copy of The Times and found that the article (page 10 in the Times2 section) had the title “Why I confiscated my son’s computer (then gave it back)“: a much more appropriate title, in my view, although the same byline is used.