The New York Times paints two very different pictures of a Silicon Valley high school
Matt Richtel’s 4,000-word story on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times — part of the paper’s Your Brain on Computers series — reads like an indictment of a generation driven to distraction by shiny gadgets, their minds permanently rewired by too much time spent texting, networking, surfing the Web and playing video games.
The 7:45-minute video Richtel made to accompany the piece, by contrast, is a story of redemption through technology, in which Vishal Singh — the 17-year-old in the lead of the newspaper story who can’t stay focused long enough to read “Cat’s Cradle” — finds his true calling as a filmmaker on an iMac running Final Cut Pro.
“Do I worry about a student like Vishal?” says Woodside High School principal David Reilly to the camera. “I don’t. He is going to turn out just fine.”
Before he saw the light, and started trying to meet students on their own high-tech turf, principal Reilly confiscated any cellphone he caught being used on school grounds. “I couldn’t get from Point A to Point B without confiscating 15 phones,” he says. “And my interactions with students were very negative. I mean, taking a cellphone away from a teenager is like taking a limb.”
Those cellphones, not surprisingly, given the affluence of Woodside, Calif., are nearly all iPhones. Although Apple (AAPL) is never mentioned in the print article, the video has the look of a Mac ad, with better Apple product placement than an episode of Sex and the City.
[Fun Fact: Woodside High, where Richtel spent four months reporting the story, is less 2.5 miles down the hill from the site of the old Jackling House, where Steve Jobs is planning to build his new home.]
My favorite bit from Richtel’s reporting is his description of how the old high school caste system has been re-mapped in the digital age:
“Social butterflies tend to be heavy texters and Facebook users. Students who are less social might escape into games, while drifters or those prone to procrastination, like Vishal, might surf the Web or watch videos.”The technology has created on campuses a new set of social types — not the thespian and the jock but the texter and gamer, Facebook addict and YouTube potato.”
[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]