Mixed Reactions to the News from the National Institute of Family and the Media

Yesterday I received an email from the National Institute of Family and the Media, announcing that it will be closing at the end of this year. They point to the current economic climate as the cause. The NIFM is known for things like their annual report card on video games, providing information about things like which video games exhibit varying degrees of violence or which ones contain sexually-explicit images. Other programs run by the institute include:

Switch – A program intended to help parents, schools, and communities encourage youth to manage their couch and screen time. It is focused upon promoting healthy and active lifestyles.

Through-U Families Become MediaWise – A program intended to help parents and others address poor media habits among children. For example, they point to statistics about the dangers of too much screen time for children and how it may impact their academic success.

Say Yes to No – A program based upon David Walsh’s book of the same name, designed to help parents discover the secrets to “raising happy self-reliant kids.”

A review of comments on the NIFM blog include a number of lamentations about the decision to close the doors of the NIFM. Ann Ricketts wrote, “I was so saddened to hear about the Board’s decision. The work you and the Institute have done through the years has changed the lives of many.” The tone of comments and announcements about the news elsewhere on the web indicate a different reaction. For example, Matt Snyders started his article about the closing this way: “The National Institute of Family and the Media, a Minneapolis-based collection of busybodies obsessed with video game violence, has decided to shut its doors.”

And yet, Dr. David Walsh notes that the formal closing of the institute does not mean the end of the institute’s efforts. “As a result, the Institute’s board of directors made the decision to close the Institute, effective December 31, 2009 and to begin transitioning the programs to other organizations who share our mission and values.” Time will tell what this transitioning will constitute, which programs will remain vibrant, and which will fade into the history of digital culture.

As a concluding editorial comment, I consider the work of the NIFM and similar organizations to be an important element of balancing views and conversations about life in the digital world. Digital culture is rich with diverse perspectives, but it it is also steeped in the drive of digital fashion, corporate influence, consumerism, propaganda, and unprecedented marketing campaigns intended to shape the habits and attitudes of their intended audiences. In such a world, one can’t underestimate the importance of critics and others who are committed to to asking difficult questions and urging parents, teachers, communities, and youth to avoid living the unexamined digital life.

Posted in editorials

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.