Saturday, March 25, 2006

Burning Down The Barn

Ok, there’s a common misconception that I want to clear up.

I was just reading a back issue of ‘Reader’s Digest’, and came across a story about the latest thing parents should apparently be worried about.

It’s a ‘game’ kids have started playing where they choke themselves out. That’s it. That’s ‘the game’.

Now, obviously, this is a bad thing. Depriving your brain of oxygen is never a good idea, and of course, you get the accidents where kids go too far and kill themselves. Of course, this happens to two or three kids nationwide and we immediately have a epidemic on our hands.

But this isn’t what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about the bit that made me just put the magazine down:

“The child’s parents are convinced this game came from the Internet.”

Hang on a min, let me put that through my truth filter:

“The child’s parents want something to blame, so they decided to blame the internet instead of the fact they should have kept a closer eye on their child.”

Don’t get me wrong. What happened to the kid in the story was a tragedy, and to be fair, maybe there where no signs that he was playing this dangerous game. All kids do dangerous things that their parents don’t know about, because kids don’t think.

I remember back in my childhood, a few friends and I would go out into the woods and make tree swings that would swing out over 30 foot drops.

Yeah, we found that bit of moldy old rope on the ground and no, we didn’t test how strong the rope was, or that the tree limb was sturdy.

Did we consider ourselves in danger? Nope. Not at all…well, maybe a little bit… but that was half the fun!

It’s something kids do.

I hate to be the one to tell everyone this, and I think every parent with grown kids will back me up on this, but unless you wrap your kids up in cotton wool and lock them in their rooms for their entire life…there’s not a lot you can do. 99% of the time, the worst that happens is a broken bone or cuts and bruises. You get the occasional tragedy, but there’s not a lot you can do about it.

(Right now, plenty of parents are thinking “Not MY kids!”…Yes, YOUR kids.)

You see, sometimes the sad truth is, there’s no one to blame. No one is responsible. It comes down to a pure accident.

Take this choking ‘game’. One day a kid passes out. He wakes up and thinks “Wow! That was cool! Your head goes all fuzzy!” Then he tells his friend…who tells a friend, who tells a friend etc, etc.

Kids at that age don’t know or care that what they’re doing is dangerous. Hey! I did it a hundred times, and I’m ok!

Then someone gets hurt, and the parents look for something handy to blame.

After the Columbine shootings, they decided to blame Marilyn Manson. No one asked how a couple of high school kids got their hands on semi-automatic assault weapons…or why their parents didn’t notice anything wrong.

A kid shoots his friend. Again, no one asks where a 12 year old gets a handgun, or why his parents allowed him to get his hands on a gun…video games are to blame.

I’ve said this a hundred times, but every generation has its scapegoat. The 20’s had Jazz, the 30’s and 40’s had pulp comic books, the 50’s and 60’s had Rock and Roll, The 70’s and 80’s had ‘Video Nasties’ and The 90’s had Rave and Hip-Hop music.

This generation’s scapegoat is Music, Videogames and above all…The Internet.

The Internet is an absolutely perfect scapegoat. No one owns it. No one ‘runs’ it. There’s no company you can blame for what’s on there. You can blame anything on the Internet, and who’s going to object?

Well…People like me, but who cares what I think? I’m just another brain-washed Internet junkie.

Here’s the thing, and this is the misconception I want to clean up.

The internet is simply a wide area network of computers. A bunch of machines plugged into one another.

What you find on the internet is people. Everything on the internet is there because someone put it there.

Nothing ‘comes from the internet’. It’s not like some evil corporation designed to take your children’s souls. When you say something ‘came from the internet’ all you’re saying is that it ‘came from people’. It’s like blaming ‘society’.

I hate to tell you this, people, but WE are ‘society’. We are the internet. All the Internet does is provide a way for us to communicate with each other.

A few paragraphs ago I pointed out that it’s pretty much impossible to keep an eye on your kids 24/7. I just find it funny that the one thing parents blame more than anything else is the one thing you CAN control 24/7. Keep the computer in the living room, install net-nanny, and there’s no reason your kids should look at anything you don’t want them to.

The biggest problem is that the only thing non-internet users hear on the news is the negative things:

Under-age kids look at porn.
Pedophiles use the internet to hunt children.
Pedophiles use the internet to swap child porn pictures.
Terrorists get plans off the internet to make bombs.
Children get exposed to bad language/sex/violence.

Does this happen?

Well, yes, it does…but you can’t blame the infrastructure for what people choose to do on it.
Let me put it another way.

The regular mail can be used to send porn magazines, child porn pictures, plans to make bombs (Or even actual bombs), movies that aren’t appropriate for children…but you never hear people calling to get the mail shut down.

People use the phone to harass people, call and leave threatening messages…but no one demands that all phones are disconnected, or that you have someone else on the line to make sure nothing is said that you may find offensive.

All the ‘bad’ information on the internet can also be found at your local library. You can find out how to make a bomb from a chemistry text-book. The British Library, one of the ‘Great Institutions’ of Britain has a copy of pretty much every book there is in print. This is held up as a ‘Good Thing’…yet most of the books there would be considered inappropriate for children…yet parents don’t want it burned to the ground. If it’s on paper, and bound in a cover, that’s ok…if it’s on a computer screen, it’s bad.

A very clever man (namely MC Etcher), put it best. (Sorry if I paraphrase you here, Etcher):

“The internet is people. If 5% of the population are criminals, 5% of the people you see on line will be criminals).

No one ever says anything about the good stuff the internet has brought us:

I met my wife on the internet, and we’re very happy together.

Thanks to the internet, I can talk to my parents (face to face over a webcam), whenever I want, and it doesn’t cost me an extra penny.

I can write to my parents and friends back in England, and they get my message within seconds, not weeks.

I can learn about anything I want with a simple Google search.

It’s just unfortunate that the people who choose to badmouth the internet and use it as a scapegoat are the people who have never used it, or know nothing about it.

Here’s the thing. Your kids look at something you don’t want them to, and you blame the internet. Not yourselves for not keeping a closer eye on them.

You decide that the internet is a ‘Bad Thing’, and tell everyone that’s what you think.

Instead, why not actually go on the internet and learn a little about it. If you have children, within a few minutes you can download and install something like Cyber-Sitter or Net Nanny…programs that block inappropriate sites.

It all comes back to censorship and parental responsibility.

Many people want the internet censored, but the internet allows self-consoring. You can decide what you want, or what your children get to see.

What does it mean to censor the internet?

To put this into non-internet terms, it means that every new book that gets written is read over by an ‘authority’, who can edit, cut out and add to any book he likes. Every picture you take is looked at and decided whether you can have it back or if it should be destroyed. Every letter you write or conversation you have goes through a third party, who decides what you’re allowed to say and what you hear.

It amazes me that here in America, the country that holds its freedom above anything else, is doing everything it can to have its freedom curtailed. By calling for internet censorship, we’re holding up our hands to the government and saying “Please, decide what we can and can’t say, and what we can and can’t see or hear.”

I’ll be as fair as I can here. There are some things on the internet that should be stamped out. Freedom of speech and expression does not cover people who want to trade child porn pictures.

However, you don’t close down the mail because someone sent a child porn picture through it. You find out who sent it and punish them.

You don’t shut down or try to censor the internet because the minority choose to mis-use it.


MC Etcher said...

Hear hear!

When I was growing up, I remember people complaining about the dangerous things kids could learn at libraries. The very idea!

Paulius said...

I'd like to hand out hearty congratualtions to MC Etcher. The only guy who can sit through one of my 1500 word rants

Glennius said...

So can Dad!

Anonymous said...

And Cousins

MC Etcher said...

PS: Thanks for the shout-out!

delmer said...

About 5 years ago my first grader came home and Googled for porn. We, the parents found out.

I'm certain the search terms he used came from school or the bus. I'm guessing older kids were involved.

The best part ... he was attending a Catholic elementary school.