Post Your Opinion
"Surfing" for Children - Frieda Wishinsky speaks with Nyla Ahmad
by Frieda Wishinsky

What do you need to become the editor of two major magazines and the author of a successful new book? You need to be intelligent, savvy, diligent, and lucky. That's true of Nyla Ahmad, the editor-in-chief of Owl and Chickadee magazines and author of the recently released Cybersurfer.
Her interests in science and technology-fields she is now researching, writing, and editing in-began early in her childhood.
"I was the kind of kid who loved to go to the hardware store with her dad. I was in awe of the ingenuity it took to make a gadget. I still marvel at something like the zipper," she explains.
After graduating from McGill, Ahmad began to look for work. But not in a lab or university. "I quickly realized I was interested in popularizing science by combining it with communications and media," she says.
She soon found work in Montreal as a research editor on a Time-Life science book series, How Things Work.
After moving to Toronto in 1990, she explored job opportunities by hanging around bookstores to assess what was being published. She also watched lots of television, studying the credits to learn who was doing what in the city. That's how Ahmad discovered Owl Publications and TV Ontario. Soon she began writing free-lance for Owl magazine and working on a TVO environmental show. "I learned that writing for kids and doing a TV show for adults are very similar," says Ahmad. "You need a clear text and strong visuals for both."
From there, she became managing editor at Owl magazine. And now, after only a few years, she's the editor-in chief both there and at Chickadee.
Today, aged twenty-eight, Ahmad has also written her first book, Cybersurfer, a fast-paced guide to the Internet for children. Children, after all, are some of its most active users. They're often more comfortable with it than adults are. Ahmad believes that's because children are used to manipulating their physical environment through TV, telephones, and computers. "Kids are used to controlling when and in what form they receive information," she suggests. Past generations have not grown up with technology in the same pervasive and rapidly evolving way.
But Cybersurfer is not just for kids. Adults will enjoy it too, for unlike many of the Internet books flooding the market, it's clearly presented, chatty in tone, and attractively designed. Best of all, it's readable and engaging-which is high praise for an information and fact book.
It accomplishes that by presenting information in logical sequence, comparing the Internet to things the reader already knows and spicing the text with relevant personal stories.
The book also introduces and explains Internet vocabulary. That new vocabulary is the source of a lot of the mystique. Cybersurfer demystifies the Internet by defining popular phrases and acronyms-though being an expert on the latest lingo isn't important. "Much of the Internet is very grass-roots," Ahmad explains. "Many of the terms may be transient, and being on top of the terminology is not necessary to enjoying and utilizing the technology."
She also feels that Cybersurfer is not just about the Internet. "It's a book about communication and a changing world and how that change is going to affect kids," she says. "The Internet is not even new. It's a natural evolution of where we've been going in terms of communication technology. It was only a matter of time till we got to this point. We've had a global telephone network and we've had computers. What's the big deal?" she laughs. "We've hooked our computers to the telephones."
Ahmad feels that the media has frightened a lot of parents about the Internet. "The media has had a significant role in making the Internet something that it's not. It's scared parents into thinking they'd never put their child on the Internet because there's some negative stuff on it like child pornography and bad language. But that's not what the Internet is all about."
Of course, like television, the movies, even the telephone, anyone using the Internet needs to use discretion and common sense. They also need to be careful. Cybersurfer cautions children not to divulge personal information to people they don't know.
Another concern frequently heard is that the Internet will "hook" children and adults. Parents worry that their child will do nothing for hours but "surf" the Net. That will lead to isolation, deterioration in schoolwork, and unexercised bodies.
Ahmad disagrees. "The Internet is bringing people together," she asserts. "The computer will never replace social contact. People need to speak to each other. The Internet is just another medium for doing that." And the access it gives you to people around the world who have similar interests to your own is phenomenal. Stories abound about people connecting with others of like mind. New friendships are being formed daily. New information is accessed and updated continually. The Internet can expand awareness, understanding, and knowledge in ways we never had before.
All this excites Ahmad. "I'm not afraid of change," she says. "I believe change is more important now than ever."
She feels that the Internet needs to be "embraced" by teachers, parents, librarians, educators, and artists. "The Internet will get better," she contends, "as more good creative people get involved."
The real challenge now will be to make it accessible to a wide public and produce quality resources that are also entertaining. "Kids have far more options today," says Ahmad. "Their attention is being pulled all over. Every sector of the media is competing against every other." The key in her opinion is to "give kids what they want and at the same time give them what you want them to have."
Despite the competition in the media, she believes each segment of the media has a different role to play in people's lives. "I don't think books will disappear," she says. "Some things work better in print than on the Internet. You have to decide what is better for what format."
A book like Cybersurfer reinforces that point . It's enjoyable to read and is a useful resource of terms and background information, and its attached "Cybersurfer Blastoff" disk, provides a gold-mine of almost three hundred wonderful "sites" to be quickly accessed on the Internet. Cybersurfer helps make the Internet what it should be: a source of pleasure and purpose.

Frieda Wishinsky's most recent book is Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone (HarperCollins Canada).


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us