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SigKIDS - Power to the Children

Monday, July 19, 1998

by Lisa A. Kerscher

The more things change, the more they stay the same, the old saying goes. Kids are kids, for example -- wanting to hit the mall, listen to music, talk about sports, or take a motorcycle ride across the country. Yet the world around them changes.


According to Binary Biker Rick Barry, "One important feature of Binary Bikers project is participation -- particularly remote participation. We want people to vicariously experience the wonderful world of motorcycling, and we think that children will simply love it."

This isn't new -- the world has always changed. But today's kids are beginning to use technology to explore their world -- and themselves -- like never before. Hanging out at sigKIDS, Randy Scanga and Greg Wilson, both 16 and from Pittsburgh, Penn., are working on projects using Director and StrataStudioPro as interns for Telecommunity -- a year-round computer graphics camp for young people. And although friends, they don't always agree on style. Randy says he likes re-creating an image he sees -- like a person -- and Greg quips, "Why make a person, when I can make an alien?" TeleCommunity involves and connects kids 11 to 17 years old between multimedia classrooms based in Jerusalem, Istanbul, Orlando, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans. This year's program theme, Where Stories Meet , lets young artists use professional software to develop and tell stories to share with the other students. This program "has a transformative effect, because we bring students into a very nurturing setting -- where peers teach peers -- and they can tap into their imaginations," Project Director Robert Dunn says.

The stories range from family histories to travelers' yarns, and can be told through text with pictures or animated 2D or 3D clips, depending on the artist. Then the stories are shared on the Web and later the students gather for a videoconference to talk about themselves and their art. Compared to a program site that simply warehouses art pieces, these participants "really learn about the reality of the different kids," Project Administrator Melanie Carr says. During one videoconference, for example, some Israeli students shared with the others how disappointed they were that they couldn't go to the mall because of a bombing nearby. Another artsy networking project showcased at sigKIDS is KidCast for Peace: Solutions For A Better World, part of the Creativity Cafe. "We thought it would be nice to [let] kids tell the adults what to do for a change," founder and coordinator Peter H. Rosen says. This cafe will join other sites -- located in Hawaii, Tokyo, Syracuse, Amsterdam, San Francisco, and elsewhere -- in a videoconference at 4 p.m. EST on July 22. "I'm tired of living in a world where people are not mutually supportive of each other," Rosen says, so "We're asking [these young people] to suggest what they think should be done to make this a happier, more peaceful place," often through art and a few sentences.

This KidCast will be the seventh in its history and the first to use new technology, called MetaStream from MetaCreations, which will let kids "map their own faces on [virtual] human figures, then animate them in backgrounds they've drawn using analog and digital tools," Rosen explains. Using CU-SeeMe software from White Pine, the networked sites will show six such avatars simultaneously, and the corresponding kids can use them to hold up their art or flash peace signs to each other, for example.

For now, the older generation rules the world. But many kids are learning fast that the power to understand and change where and how they live is in their own heads and at their fingertips.