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Kids from around the world Swatch and listen at summit

The 94 young participants in Junior Summit '98 expected to have a good time when they traveled to MIT from more than 50 different countries around the world for this week's Media Lab conference on children's visions of the future uses of technology.

They expected to be cheered to new heights of creativity and commitment by Media Lab lights including Nicholas Negroponte, director and co-founder of the Media Lab; Seymour Papert, professor of education and media technology; and Justine Cassell, the AT&T Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences. And they were.

Professor Papert exhorted the 10-to-16-year-old Junior Summiteers to think about why they are called children in the first place and then throw those assumptions right out the window.

"Why don't kids drive cars? Why don't American kids handle sharp knives? Asking crazy questions sometimes provokes the most stimulating answers," he declared.

Professor Cassell encouraged the group to "break that linguistic barrier" which might inhibit non-English speakers from full-throttle involvement in the summit's packed schedule of meetings and activities focused on topics such as Improving the Lives of Children, Education, and The Environment.

Just before blastoff, Yann Gamard, president of Swatch Group US, gave each youth a whole new concept of time. Programmed to tell Internet Time, each Swatch watch displays regular old-fashioned time plus a window showing a number between one and 1,000. Internet Time divides the day into 1,000 units, or beats, with midnight at 1,000 and noon at 500.

Created by Swatch (the meridian passes through Swatch headquarters in Switzerland) to ease the hassles of cyber-globe-trotting, the new watches took their first consumer voyage this week. Mr. Gamard urged the Summiteers to wear the Internet watches during their week at MIT and report on Saturday with suggestions for improving it.

Junior Summit '98 concludes on Saturday, Nov. 21 with a final presentation by the young participants in Kresge from 9am-12:30pm. This event is free and open to the public.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 18, 1998.

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