Net of Fear
Oh… TED Talks. The problem with these things is that they are so inspiring and thought-provoking that they are IMPOSSIBLE to resist writing and talking about… The one I just watched was “Gever Tulley: 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do” which deals, in part, with how over-safe we are trying to make children’s experience and how counterproductive that is.
So I’m going to rant here again, but I promise I’ll relate it back to social media.
I grew up severely overprotected in some respects. My parents were afraid of everything (in their defence, they grew up in Hungary (Eastern Europe), during an extremely volatile, war-centric period and dealt with severe religious persecution). Their constant message was that the world and its people were horrible, and that you could trust no one and do nothing. As a result, it is easy to imagine the things I did once I left home. I regret none of my experiences (though I am surprised I managed to survive a few situations), but I cringe when I see people limit and dominate their children’s experience. I shake my head every time someone warns me about doing something commonplace, or make unilateral decisions about safety based on a newsreport (someone was killed in Mexico – don’t go there!). The fearful and overprotective propaganda is as unnecessary and exaggerated as the “color-coded” US threat-level warnings.
There is no need to tell children that the world is perfect, filled with only people looking out for their best interest. But the message should be education and information, rather than fear mongering. (Culture of Fear, is one of my favourite books – and if you have any others that deal with this topic, please do comment with the titles) – as it addresses society’s perceived threats and how statistically improbable most of these are.) There are certainly things to be feared, but you also have to go in thinking “what are the odds?” (usually very small) and “how to I mitigate the possible dangers while still having a life and participating”?
When I talk about what I do and about social media in general, I am sometimes met with a horrified, “I’m supposed to give information about myself? Online?!!!”, as if I have suggested running down the street naked with a bull’s eye taped to one’s bum.
And I have to take a “blame the media” approach to this to a large extent. I watched the infuriating and insulting PBS special “Growing Up Online“. For anyone dealing with social media this is one of the most frustrating pieces conceived by an institution that purports to educate (though I am at least grateful they are creating a conversation on the topic – the discussion page is quite interesting). The voice-over for the program could double as a narration for an A&E crime special, (“Steven thought his child was just checking his email at night. But little did he know…”). The message appears to be that parents know nothing about the internet going-ons (which, of course, is true in many cases), but the response of at least one of the parent set is, rather than educate themselves about the medium and have an honest discourse to educate their children about what they should and should not put online, they resort to banning the medium entirely. Not an effective (not to mention fair) solution… I remember as a teen in Montreal there were a series of rapes. The police released a warning stating that women should not go out after dark. (This is when I, baffled, checked my calendar, and oddly enough it was in fact the 90s, and not 1942.) These are not solutions.
There are most certainly pedophiles and much unscrupulousness on the Internet, but like anything online or off, being aware of the problem is the most valuable protection. How many less would fall for the Nigerian 419 scam or phishing or risk their personal safety if they were avenues in place to educate people about the internet?
(I notice that I tend to preach in my writing – perhaps my “Evangelist” title is more apt than I originally though… – and this post is no exception:) Absolutely exercise caution. But inform yourself about the working of the interweb, rather than falling prey to panic (e.g. consider not listing your work your address if you work from home, refrain from posting the sexiest picture you have of yourself on your business blog, avoid listing your Facebook status as “Peter is leaving town for a week, hoping place will air out with window open” etc.)
I am adamant that fear is not the answer. Education is.