Braving the New World of Lower Merion

“Image of slaughtered cows not approved by teacher. Google them at your own peril.” – from a 10th-grader’s poster on Homer’s “Odyssey” displayed in Lower Merion High School.

Meet the students of Pennsylvania’s LMHS.

With their classes and after-school commitments, their workday starts at dawn and ends after midnight. They find a bit of time to have fun though. They surf MTV and ESPN’s sites. They dress in grunge and punk and preppy and retro and styles not yet defined. They organize Madden NFL tournaments.

In many ways, they’re some of the savviest minds online. As you’ll soon find out, they’re also among the most cynical.

Ms. Segal, who I knew in college as Jess, invited me to speak to her LMHS English classes about writing, the Internet, and how a shy, gangly high school student can wind up in a fulfilling career and industry that stokes his passion. It was a marathon session that included over 100 students in five classes spanning 9th through 12th grades.



Under Ms. Segal’s guidance, the students are engaging in some of the most fascinating uses of technology I’ve seen anywhere. They use blogs as literary journals and PowerPoint to create music videos. One theme that arises from talking to the students is that even the skeptics accept the Internet’s prevalence, albeit with a sigh of resignation. They don’t have to love it, but they won’t be left behind.

These adolescents are the consumers of today and tomorrow. They’re your future colleagues – and your future bosses. Born in the late 80s and early 90s, most have grown up in an environment where the first place to look for information is not in a newspaper, phone book, or encyclopedia but online, starting with a search engine. Think of how pervasive search engines are for you; now think of what that means for a growing body of people who have used search engines their entire lives.

At the end of each class, Ms. Segal asked her students to anonymously share their thoughts, what they learned, and any lingering questions. Meet the students of Lower Merion:

Online and Omnipresent

“It is nice to talk to someone who has experience in the Internet because it is a part of everyone’s daily life.”

"I'm not a big fan of the Internet and technology, probably because I'm really bad at it, but it's a necessary and daily thing in my life now."

Cynicism, Skepticism, and Fear

"I wonder how much the Internet has had an effect on society and if that effect will be negative in the long run. I think that e-mail and services like instant messenger can be a good medium through which to communicate certain things. However, I also think that we are abusing its purpose in a way because we are, at times, replacing real human interaction with the Internet. In a way, the Internet can be a copout for relieving real human interaction."

“Technology has always seemed strange and complicated to me….”

“I value the Internet so much, but at the same time, it scares me. I feel as though because of it I do not do a lot of things for myself.”

"The Internet has actually been on my mind recently because of the copyright problems. I've wondered if it will become worse or more controlled as the years go on."

“Having searches personalized is a great feat but, I believe, it’s possibly the first step toward a society in ‘Brave New World,’ where the citizens are told what they like and how they think.”

The Future

"I have heard about the 'perfect search' idea before, and I think it’s really interesting, but, like anything else, it would probably take awhile to perfect without faults in the system."

“I am excited for the development of wireless Internet.”

“What won’t you be able to do with the Net? In 10 years, newspapers will be obsolete. In 20, so will printed media.”

Lessons Learned

“Today I learned that you can make a living on the Internet. My uncle has been doing it for years and he doesn’t seem to work so hard. I never thought it was an actual job.”

“I was really surprised at how popular the Internet really is.”

“I was very surprised to hear that Web sites can really have that many articles, even ones such as that I’ve never heard of.”

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