Digital Apostate — Part IV: Children and the Internet
I don’t have kids. I like them, they like me; I’m a silly man-baby, so it’s an easy bond to forge. I’d like to have kids someday if perhaps my mind will cooperate enough. I was born in 1990 and I first used a computer somewhere within the range of five to nine-years-old, I’m not quite sure. I can tell you that when I grew up, the internet was far too slow and limited to be of any serious consequence to a kid like me — if I wanted to find something fucked-up on the internet, I wouldn’t have the time in a given day for the website to load. Plus, even if I did have the time for some forsaken website to load enough for me to see a boob or a ball or whatever, someone surely would’ve approached me at some point during the hours-long loading process to disrupt, or worse yet, a phone call could come through and throw off the whole dial-up internet situation. The point is this: it wasn’t until much later that the internet available to me was powerful, fast, and vast enough to make a memory of.
Kids today are born into a time of superior technology. As soon as their little brains can comprehend and their little hands can function enough, they’ll be on an iPad or their parent’s iPhone or perhaps their own phone (as that seems to be happening sooner and sooner). My first cell phone was a Nokia with a blue screen and interchangeable faceplates. It was incapable of anything good, especially something lurid. My first email address was on the original AOL client. For your edification, my screenname was “Mario07662,” which was of course named after the iconic Nintendo character and my postal code. So yes, I was cool.
I digress. Point being, my introduction to the internet was slow and spread out over a number of years while the technology caught up to where it is now. There was no Facebook in my world, no MySpace, no Twitter, no Instagram — at least not until I was in high school. I had nothing to compare my life against, nothing to live up to, nothing to despair about, and nothing to promote. It was an excellent time to be a human. Present technology is extraordinary, don’t get me wrong. However, given the choice, I wouldn’t want to grow up with it. Yes, it’s advantageous and online shopping is an American pastime, but it’s too much all at once.
The vastness of the internet offers up an astonishing amount of terror for a child to stumble their way into — sex, violence, and racism being the big three of course. It’s wholly conceivable that a kid, within their first foray into the internet, could find something awful. Hell, I myself stumbled upon a horrible picture of John F. Kennedy’s fatal headwound while doing research for a high school paper and the image never left me– I could probably draw it for you, it’s that ingrained in my mind. And that was just for a school paper, never mind deliberately trying to find something naughty or dark. It’s far too easy for a child to learn things that could alter their trajectory or taint their worldview.
Indulge me in a flight of fancy for a moment. If you had a five-year-old child sitting on the floor of your living room with their back against the couch and a coffee table in front of them on which you had laid out marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and a colorful assortment of pills, you would be carried away in handcuffs — and rightfully so. So then, why is it OK to set your child loose on a laptop, phone, or tablet knowing full well the wealth of inappropriate things on the internet? Yes, there’s filters you could use — but there’s too much to account for. Much like the array of drugs being offered before the child can even comprehend the heaviness, the internet offers too much too soon for young kids.
And this is just the website content. What about social media? What happens to a young mind when it’s introduced to popularity contests and self-promotion at a very young age? Who or what do they live for? One of the most wonderful things about being a kid is the boundless wonder and joy experienced in the face of a huge world. But now, kids are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at very young ages — sharing their lives and looking in on the lives of others. This isn’t healthy. It isn’t ethical to introduce the popularity contest before a child finds what it means to be a kid. They shouldn’t be tainted by keeping up with their friends’ lives. They shouldn’t be subjected to internet bullying and class disparities.
And this is what scares me. I taught kids music for a number of years at rock-oriented music school franchise which may or may not have been the subject of a documentary, a comedy movie, and a Broadway musical. I saw the wonder in a child’s eyes, but I also witnessed a changing world where kids were trying their hardest to become internet sensations, posting nasty comments, and investing hours upon hours of their young lives into their phones.
I implore you to take a walk in your local park and see just how many people are on their phones while walking and sitting in such a glorious and meticulously maintained section of local paradise. Even in something as overwhelming as nature, people can’t disconnect. This is sick, this is dangerous. This shouldn’t be what children are born into. The real world has got to be enough. A being as innocent as a child doesn’t deserve to be thrust into a world that centers around self-promotion, popularity contests, and keeping up with the Joneses. It’s bad enough that any of us adults care about our own internet popularity and following, our outward internet persona — a child shouldn’t be corrupted by such a twisted version of society