Digital Citizenship and the Forward Edge Transference

Recently I had an opportunity to visit a school for a daylong workshop, where I got to meet with the kids during the day, and their parents at night.  I love it when this happens because I can then ask the children what they struggle most about with their parents regarding technology.  So during the course of the morning I asked over 425 5th, 6th, and 7th graders what I should help their parent understand about technology.  I got lots of great answers from them all, and my favorite one came when one 7th grader raised his hand and said, “can you please explain to my parents that multiplayer video games have no save?”

There are several reasons why that request is actually brilliant, but the one I want to focus on is how this statement, and a person’s frustration at being asked to log off in the midst of a multiplayer video game may be a forward edge transference.

The term “forward edge transference” comes from Marian Elson’s work in self-psychology.  She has described the forward edge transference as being akin to what Kohut was talking with his interns about when he described leading edge transference.  Forward edge transferences, according to Tolpin, are tendrils of psychological growth in the patient, often hard to see, if not completely overlooked, by the therapist because they don’t look like growth.  Often we consider “psychological growth” as in the eye of the beholder, whether it be therapist, parent, teacher or someone else other than the patient.  One of the example’s Tolpin uses is that of a patient who cuts to be able to “feel,” and to bleed.  The forward edge transference there in Tolpin’s estimation, is the self’s still healthy yearning for kinship, to “bleed like everyone else.”

I use this example because it very powerfully demonstrates how even an easily pathologized concern such as cutting, could indicate a tendril of healthy growth, easily overlooked.  The behavior forward edge transference travels concealed within is glaringly “obvious” to us, and because of that forward edge transferences may be misunderstood, and the striving for psychological health get stymied.

So what does this have to do with Massively Multiplayer Online Games?

As I mention in my book MMOs are a form of social media, and collaborative play, where the player is often cooperating with a group of others in a raid or guild to achieve something that could not be accomplished individually.  Whether it be downing a dragon in World of Warcraft, unlocking guild achievements, or building a city overnight in Minecraft, the player is part of a larger group.  They matter to the larger group.

Embedded in the comment “multiplayer has no save” is the forward transference for a sense of kinship, and more specifically the dawning of a concept of being a digital citizen.  Here is an adolescent saying that they understand their behavior has an impact on others, that they want to collaborate online, and that they feel responsible to the larger group.  Saying in fact what all the adults around them have been trumpeting for over a decade of their lives in most cases.

A digital citizen is defined in Wikipedia as “a person utilizing information technology (IT) in order to engage in society, politics, and government participation.”  To be a digital citizen requires “extensive skills, knowledge, and access of using the internet through computers, mobile phones, and web-ready devices to interact…”  And the elements of digital citizenship per digitalcitizenship.net include:

  • Digital Access:full electronic participation in society.
  • Digital Commerce:electronic buying and selling of goods.
  • Digital Communication:  electronic exchange of information.
  • Digital Literacy:process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology.
  • Digital Etiquette: electronic standards of conduct or procedure.
  • Digital Law:electronic responsibility for actions and deeds
  • Digital Rights & Responsibilities: those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world.
  • Digital Health & Wellness:physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world.
  • Digital Security (self-protection):electronic precautions to guarantee safety.

Here’s the rub:  If you look at those elements, many of the adults charged with caring for and educating the young aren’t necessarily competent digital citizens themselves.  I can tell you for a fact that I have participated over the past decade with professionals and peers on listservs and bulletin boards, and have seen appalling standards for conduct and procedure.  It rivals anything I’ve seen adolescents do to each other.

We live in interesting times, when we are entrusted to educate youth about a technology when we often don’t know how to use socially and effectively ourselves.  We tell them not to interrupt, then answer our cell-phones in the middle of them telling us about their day.  We tell them to pay attention to us even as we’re checking our emails on the Blackberry.  We stalk them on Facebook to censor them in one browser window, and post embarrasing pictures and comments of them in another.  And we pull the plug on them while they’re playing an MMO even as we tell them that they’ve been inconsiderate of their younger sibling who wants a “turn.”

Part of the problem here is our neophyte digital citizenship.  People from older generations tend to think of video games as this:

when they’re actually more like this:

When was the last time you showed up at your daughter’s basketball game in the 3rd quarter and told her, “you’ve been on the court long enough, you’re coming home?”  And yet, we do this to kids online all the time, and foil their attempts to be team players and group contributors.

There’s a lot at stake here:  Multiplayer has no save.  10-30 people, often from all over the world have come together to try to overcome an obstacle.  When you pull the plug, you’re pulling it on all of them.  It is great that our kids know this and care about it!

Most of us have wanted to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to create something together, even if it is just one moment or memory with others.  We need to look at video games without the Pong Goggles, and see it as a form of society and an opportunity for digital citizenship.

To recognize the forward edge of a transference is never an easy thing.  It is small, fragile, the newest shoot of growth.  In a sense, all of us on this planet are in the midst of such a tendril of growth when it comes to technology.  But the time when digital literacy was optional has passed, and we need to do a better job with the next generation of digital citizens than we are doing.

 

Like this post? There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book. I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.

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Mike Langlois, LICSW

Mike consults, writes and teaches about online technologies, video games & psychotherapy. He provides private supervision for psychotherapists who seek to start, grow, & market their private practice.
About Mike Langlois, LICSW

Mike consults, writes and teaches about online technologies, video games & psychotherapy. He provides private supervision for psychotherapists who seek to start, grow, & market their private practice.

Comments

  1. Mike,

    I like the approach of forward edge transference. Comparing playing a MMO with a basketball game sheds a whole other light on playing “video games”. I would like to add that like a basketball game is scheduled at a certain date / time, a group of people in a MMO could also come together at a certain date / time. And then, when the concerning adolescent tells his parents about this appointment, it can be taken into account in the famliy planning, e.g. regarding dinner time or regarding going out.

    Regards,
    Pepijn

  2. Hi Mike,

    What a powerful post conveying a very important concept – that kids are demonstrating some positive developmental growth by not wanting to let down their other team members by just walking away from a shared online game/activity. This is what being a good digital citizen is all about.

    Your use of the pictures – showing how some of use may envision the game kids are playing vs the actual type of game that they are playing involving many players – is a particularly effective illustration of what type of activity they are engaged in and why it is so hard to just walk away.

    My question to you is how do you advise handling the “walking away” from the such an activity in a responsible digital citizen manner? Could one set in advance down times with other members or is this difficult to arrange with members being from different time zones? How much of a time warning do other members need to reorganize/gear up if the game/activity may continue with a member leaving?

  3. As usual, very thought provoking.

  4. Dr. Jaine Summers says:

    Your information is extremely helpful. Thank you!

  5. I do believe that this kind of game has a positive effect on a child. Socially and emotionally, they will improve just by communicating to others. The only question here is how the family will control the amount of time spent on playing MMO games. It will be nice if they will be able to put a balance on the play time.

  6. Technology has been a huge part of our lives. It has certain advantages and disadvantages just like in gaming. Some people are not aware of the good effects that’s why they put limitations and fail to experience the potential of it. Like in MMO games, that’s why it is nice if parents allow their children to a good social gaming experience and just put a balance to their child’s life.

  7. This is just a question of discipline and balance. The children deserve and has the right to play games. This is how they will explore the world and start to develop in every aspect of their lives. The whole family must learn to adapt to these needs and let the kids have fun. Proper guidance is very important. Do not put extreme limitations to a young individual especially in joining social activities and games. There are already plenty of studies suggesting that online gaming and other social activities help in the good and proper development of a child.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] I read a great article about digital citizenship, Digital Citizenship and the Forward Edge Transference, written by Mike Langlois, LICSW. In his post, Langlois discusses many similarities between [...]

  2. [...] of playing video games and using social media is that it begins to let kids integrate learning about digital literacy as well.  One example of digital literacy that Howard Rheingold discusses is “crap [...]

  3. [...] He then recommends that her parents talk to the school about allowing her to use technology to amplify her thoughts and expression there, via the school newspaper.  He also suggests that they use technology in the form of a letter written by Harriet’s old nanny to give her some advice and connection.  Many will say that Ole Golly’s letter is the pivot point for Harriet in the story, but I’d suggest that the pivotal moment comes when the mental health practitioner doesn’t demonize technology (the notebook) or pathologize its usage, but rather leans on technology as an avenue into the patient’s forward edge transference. [...]

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