The Internet Parent
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Monday, February 12, 2007

Reality, Not Science Project

The Internet changes everything - including how we treat it

"If we mess this up, we're doomed."

As reported by Erik Sass in Online Media Daily, so spake Elliot Schrage, Google's vice president of global communications and public affairs, at a meeting in New York to answer the question, "Does the Internet Change Everything?"

Well, my humble answer is, "Yes, the Internet does indeed change everything."

And, as the Internet changes, and as it changes our world, we need to STOP pretending that it's just a science project. It is fundamentally changing our world, and fundamentally imposing itself into our lives. And our kids' lives. And the fabric of our communities.

Is that bad? No, of course not. BUT, if we don't realize that an unfettered, uncontrolled, and uncontained Internet is no different than any other unfettered, uncontrolled, uncontained form of human behavior, we're in for a very dark time. As Liz Perle of Commonsense Media put it, "The inmates are running the asylum. They're creating content now, and they're far out ahead of us."

Most parents see the Internet as the best educational tool available to their kids. At the same time, they see it as the source of the most dangerous exposure. So what's a sensible way to think about things?

It's simple. We already limit and regulate: printed media; broadcast media; alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; access to weapons; driving privileges; citizenship; zoning for certain kinds of businesses and housing; etc., etc., etc...

The list is endless.

Yet we don't limit or regulate the Internet. Why is that exactly?

Is it because we don't want to spoil it's chances to grow? Hello? Are you listening out there? The Internet is gutting several multi-billion dollar industries, and spawning several more. The economic dislocation caused by the Internet is staggering, and cannot be stopped. So I'm not exactly worried that the Internet will fail to achieve its economic potential.

Is it because it's wrong to violate freedom of expression? Give me a break. When you can go to a porn publication's website and they have the photographs that are "too hot for the magazine..." you know we've lost touch with reality on this one. Let's be clear: a magazine that you have to go to a store to buy, pay money to a real person, and perhaps even (good heavens!) show an ID to purchase CANNOT show pictures that are available with no more than a mouse click, a fake name, and a Hotmail address to anybody with a computer and a wireless card. We regulate all kinds of content in all kinds of ways, because its in society's best interests to do so, especially with respect to minors.

Is it because it's too hard? Not a good enough answer. We have chosen to hide behind the Internet's technological complexity and distributed structure for too long. We have chosen to ignore the social costs of disrupted childhood development, predatory sexual behavior, and damaged mental health, in favor of limiting the cost of making the Internet ubiquitous and cheap. Well, we regulate alcohol and it's pretty ubiquitous. We all could make our own wine (I do!) as readily as we can all post our own Internet content. And somehow, we still regulate alcohol.

Why not just let the parents be responsible?
Because the parents can't hope to control all of the ways their kids will gain access to the Internet. Whether it's through the school, their mobile phones, a friends' house, a cyber-cafe, or a hacker's website, kids will find their way on to the Internet. So parents simply do not have the tools to limit exposure in either quality or quantity. Yes, parents have to do their part. But the community as a whole needs to come together (at all levels - local, state, federal, and international) and accept the responsibility to manage, moderate, and regulate the Internet.

The Internet isn't "virtual reality", it IS reality.

It's the world as our kids know it.


The Internet is not some special, sacred resource. We shouldn't leave them exposed to the vicious, unscrupulous, and depraved just because the Internet is a cool invention. Just like in the "old" real world, we have an obligation to protect the weak (e.g., our kids), and constrain the destructive elements of society, as they both colonize the Internet.

The Internet changes everything. That means we have an obligation to change the way we look at it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That was depressing. Somebody out there, tell me I'm wrong.

6 Comments:

  • I am concerned about our kids being exposed to harmful content on the internet.

    Can someone suggest me a SET OF TOOLS that will help me in addressing most of the aspects.

    Presently all that I am doing is to use http://voxov.com for carrying our searches. It is said to be a safe search engines for kids.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 25, 2007 11:51 PM  

  • Hi - thanks for the question. There are many helpful sites out there, and I encourage our community to make suggestions. Blue Coat makes K9 Web Protection available for free to families. We hope that would be a good start for you.

    Keeping your kids away from harmful content is an important but challenging job. I wish you good luck in your search, and if you find additional useful tools, write us and share your discoveries.

    By Blogger John Carosella, at March 01, 2007 1:29 PM  

  • That very well written, thought- provoking, and sobering.

    Bravo to your common sense and morality.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 07, 2007 4:40 PM  

  • Kudos to you for raising this discussion so thoughtfully.
    Now, having been respectful, I beg to be contrarian.
    The real plague to which our young people are being exposed is not pornography, "inappropriate" content or online solicitations, we can, and must educate to solve those. The real plague is the advertising and promotion of products and services that are the, highly sophisticated way our beloved Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and every new Tom, Dick and Mary digital entrepreneur are financing themselves. All the while we stand on our soapboxes bemoaning our kids exposure to illicit, titillating materials and predation - we all endorse, admire even, not to mention pay for, more subtle and egregious manipulation of their, and our own, minds. If we are not very careful, very quickly we all will be boiled like frogs in water as Web 2.x becomes the most insidious persuasion system ever devised with the broadcast media paling in comparison.

    By Blogger Ian, at March 27, 2007 3:26 PM  

  • Ian - thank you for your comment, and well-said. I think BOTH are a problem. That's part of what I was reaching for in Kids: 10 is the new 15 ; the presence of advertising pollutes "what we're looking for" much more often than it legitimately offers "what we're looking for", and the consequences are nasty when adults insinuate themselves into our kids lives for profit.

    Kids are vulnerable precisely because they are impressionable, whether it's the overt content or the covert advertising. The question has to be, "What can we do about it?"

    Another topic entirely is the McCluhan-esque "media is the message" problem with user-generated, advertiser-supported content. Web 2.0 could become a nasty bog of illusion, where the advertisers produce the most compelling content while masquerading as "one of us" -- the ultimate con. That's for another day.

    By Blogger John Carosella, at March 27, 2007 6:21 PM  

  • can K9 web protection be used in network? Like I want to install it in 1 computer (PC1) in my computer and all remaining computers in my network must check k9 in PC1 for defined actions. Is it possible?

    By Blogger skap, at May 16, 2009 10:58 PM  

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