With all the recent attention focused on stories of teenagers charged with distributing child pornography for taking sexually suggestive pictures of themselves, jobs lost due to Facebook and MySpace entries, and libel suits over blog posts, people are justifiably concerned about the permanence of material posted to the Internet. Many a teacher or parent has had to carefully explain to children or teens that whatever they post online might be seen by people other than the intended audience, and might be out there for a very long time.
One of the most famous images of online life is the New Yorker cartoon captioned “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The cartoon, published in 1993, was hugely influential in fixing an image in the public imagination of the Internet as a place where anonymity reigned. It did not take long for that humorous view of anonymity to take on a darker cast, as parents began to fear that Internet predators would use this invisibility to lure their children in the guise of twelve-year-old girls. It’s instructive, though, to realize just how long ago this cartoon was published, and how much the Internet has changed since then.
The YouTube video “Ultimate Dog Tease” has jumped from 15 million to 37 million views since the beginning of May 2011. The “JK Wedding Entrance Dance” has hit 67 million views since it was launched on YouTube. These two videos have more followers than some TV shows. They’re fun, they’re silly and, like YouTube as a medium, they are worth celebrating.
The recently released Pew Report Teens, Video Games and Civicshas revived the question about whether video games can be a worthwhile activity. Another recent entry in this debate is Jim Rossignol’s This Gaming Life, a survey of computer gaming culture and a chronicle of its role in the author’s life.
Someone encountering the Internet for the first time might be forgiven for assuming it was created specifically for teenagers. Indeed, the Internet could reasonably be said to have been aging backwards since its birth – the domain first of scientists and the military, then of university students in the 1990s and now children and teenagers.
Despite what many adults believe privacy matters to youth. More and more, though, youth are finding that their actions online are monitored – by parents, teachers, and corporations. A high school principal creates a fake Facebook profile page and adds over 300 of her school’s students as friends; a Texas middle-school plans to introduce ID cards with microchips that its students will be required to carry at all times; an Indiana high school student is expelled after a profane tweet (sent in the middle of the night from the student’s home computer) alerts his school’s monitoring system.
In January, American Vice-President Joe Biden met with video game industry representatives in the wake of the tragic events at Sandy Hook to discuss the possible relationship between video games and gun violence. Five days later, President Barack Obama asked the United States Congress to fund more research to study the potential link between violence and video games, noting that “We don’t benefit from ignorance”.
In ancient times the Olympics were a time when all nations – all Greek nations, anyway – would put away their differences and compete in almost every human activity, from poetry to the ferocious, no-holds barred combat sport called pankration. Being the very best that humans could be was seen as the best way to honour the gods of Olympus.
It’s been widely said that attention is the currency of the 21st Century. In an age where media occupy an increasingly central role in our lives, the need to have that media focused on you becomes intense. For no-one is this more true than for children and teens, who now expect to be connected twenty-four hours a day and for whom the Internet and cell phones are essential parts of their social lives. An interesting Facebook page, amusing Tweets, outrageous YouTube videos, even shocking photos sent by cell phone – most of us are aware of the ways that young people seek their peers’ attention. In today’s media environment, is it still possible to teach young people the value of privacy? What, indeed, does the idea of privacy even mean to today’s children and teens?
Young people today spend large amounts of time sharing parts of their personal lives online playing games, “checking in” with geolocation apps, posting photos and catching up with friends through social media. But despite this openness, privacy does indeed matter to youth, especially with their online actions being increasingly monitored by parents, educators, and corporations.