Monday, February 15, 2010

Fer the Children

Like most censorship, Australia's censorship attempts are touted as being "for the children". Everyone, even the Australian government, knows that's crap. You may be unaware of the full extent of Australia's censorship interests, which include not only censoring the internet, but also things like making pictures of flat women illegal. Obviously, this is a level of retarded that makes rocks and bits of dirt look pretty bright.

But I'm actually here to come at this from the other angle.

A lot of people argue that these censorship attempts are stupid because parents should look after their children. An adult should be responsible for the things their children see, and if they want to be safe without shoulder-surfing all the time, they should get a net nanny program of some sort.

Fair enough, except that, um, that's not gonna cut it.

Your daughter can browse the web on her phone. Is your net nanny installed on her phone?

The phone is just the tip of the iceberg. We're advancing very fast, and children are growing up with more and more computing devices, more and more ability to access data. But the parents are still thinking in terms of porno mags and filched beer.

Frankly, kids are more than a match for their parents. Even if mommy and daddy are computer experts, they're going to be very hard-pressed to keep up with their kid's movements on line. The kid has a lot of time, a lot of access points, and an almost infinite amount of energy to throw at any given problem.

And it's going to get a hundred times worse. If your kid is a baby right now, their teenage years are going to be unrecognizable to you. They'll be unfolding their flashpaper rig and popping onto the darknet that the kids at school have formed. They'll be getting answers to questions before the teacher has even asked them. And they'll have more information on the most recent earthquake across the planet than you do.

We are not breeding cute little humanoids to grow up in the seventies or eighties and become sharp-dressed Wall Street execs and prim wives. We're breeding infomorphs. We're breeding creatures of data. They're gonna run circles around their parents.

Some argue that this is a good reason for the government to step in. Hah! Parents don't stand a chance, but the government is just hilariously inept. I recommend it! The more censorship a government enforces, the earlier the children will learn to hack. Someday, a four year old with a smart watch is going to stand in front of Congress and bring up every blacklisted site on the planet, one by one.

What we should be thinking of is not censorship, not walls and fences, but instead havens. A child in the eighties could walk far enough to find truly dangerous and bad parts of town. However, they generally didn't, because they were satisfied to just walk down to the playground or the seven eleven alone. The need for independence, to figure stuff out on your own, was satisfied without needing to dodge into some sleazy brothel or mafia drug deal.

Wouldn't it make a lot of sense to have child data havens? Full of places children could go - with or without adult accompaniment? Places to discover things, to play with other children, or just to hang out? To be independent and figure stuff out on their own, without actually being in a dangerous area?

The seeds for these places already exist in MySpace or any given low-rent MMORPG. These could be expanded, structured carefully. A sort of "data suburbia". It would be tricky, but possible.

The idea wouldn't be to limit the children. It would be to make an environment rich enough that their emerging culture can handle occasional encounters with the nasty and vile deeps of the internet. In the same way that your kids survive falling off the monkey bars, or crashing their bike. They don't suddenly panic whenever they see monkey bars or bikes, they just get back on. Once they've had their cry and gotten a band-aid.

That's the sort of environment I think we need to create on the web. Not to make the web safe for children, but to make a place for children on the web. Not even a safe place for children. Just a place.

It would be very hard to do, because the creators would inevitably misunderstand what the children want, underprovide, talk down to them, and in general not make a place designed to grow with children year by year by year. But it should be POSSIBLE, and unlike censorship, it wouldn't be a fundamentally immoral act.


Christopher Weeks said...

I agree with a bunch of stuff you say here, but I'm not sure about the end suggestion. The basic idea that the "won't somebody think of the children" censorship in which people are engaging is stupid is solid. And the degree to which the next generation will be adept at accessing data is good too. Parents (and especially governments) aren't really equipped to effectively censor these kids.

But what about this safe space that you're suggesting? Isn't the web already the safe space for kids to explore? Where almost nobody gets more than "skinned-knee" hurt?

My son is fifteen. My greatest fear of his unrestricted internet access is that he'll develop unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of sex from the prevalent porn (though it's also probable that human sexuality will be changed along with everything else). He's not going to get seriously hurt. And he's sure as shit not going to get killed. The internet is already a haven from the truly dangerous parts of town, yeah?

Maybe I'm just misunderstanding the niche you suggest filling. How is the internet not already a place for the kids? My son has friends who are ten and friends who are thirty on the net -- through MMOs, fora, Facebook, etc.

Craig Perko said...

I think you're right, but many people disagree. You can find some rather extraordinary stuff on the web, much of which runs very directly afoul of many people's moralities.

Even I hesitate to let a young child onto the web with no supervision. I don't know that I would feel comfortable putting an eight year old out there alone. I can only imagine that real parents worried about this sort of thing would feel a million times more nervous.

So, really, I'm suggesting something that would be a bit more politically viable than the current set-up, and perhaps with a focus on connecting local kids and fun education.

Craig Perko said...

Oh, and I think that the web's going to change pretty severely in the next fifteen years, which is a factor. I'd rather integrate it into a child's life on purpose than get blindsided.