Parenting in a Digital Age
The Mediatization of Family Life
and the Need to Act
IN A POLEMICAL FIFTEENTH-CENTURY tract titled “In Praise of Scribes,” the Benedictine monk Johannes Trithemius wrote with dismay about an invention by one of his contemporaries, Johann Gutenberg. The printing press was going to contribute to an inferior culture, Trithemius’ manuscript argued.1 Moreover, the young monks who had long pursued the arduous task of learning how to copy the scriptoria by hand would lose an important means of attaining moral character, as copying engaged them in activities of “diligence and industry.”2 Trithemius was early to notice and deplore the shift from a culture of the manuscript to what would become the culture of the printed word. It was a shift from a time in which only specialists within the institution of the Catholic Church could access and reproduce valuable manuscripts to a time when owners of the printing press could make market-based decisions about what might be considered valuable and worthy of reproduction. As historian Elizabeth Eisenstein has pointed out, there is an interesting irony in the story of Trithemius’ diatribe against his culture’s new form of communication. So as to ensure that his ideas were circulated widely, Trithemius sought out his local printer and had his own work printed for mass consumption.3 He wanted to resist communication technology, but then again couldn’t resist the advantages it had introduced for his own communication efforts. Now even his resistance is remembered in the process of cultural change in which he inevitably took part.
Parents in the United States today find themselves in the same bind. Many parents whose stories were described in this book lamented the extensive use of mobile phones, texting, and social networking sites in the lives of their children, and expressed concerns about the older media of