Christmas is all about the kids. This was particularly evident back when I was a film studies teacher and my teenaged charges would pester me to put on Christmas films from around mid-November onwards. This year I approach my first Christmas with a family of my own – our little boy (appropriately enough, Joseph) will be nine weeks old when the big day arrives next Wednesday.
One thing I’m particularly looking forward to when he gets a bit older is toys. While I would have been equally happy with a boy or a girl, I’m secretly looking forward to Christmasses to come knowing that there’s less likely to be plastic tiaras or glitter involved. If he does wants to play with plastic tiaras that’s fine – it’s mostly the glitter I object to. Joe’s current obsession is lights, particularly the spotlights in the kitchen. So I went out and got a fancy LED Christmas tree, which he has, to date, steadfastly ignored. So much for technology…
Despite my son’s apparent lack of interest, the pace of technological change over the past couple of centuries has been unrelenting. This isn’t to say nothing much happened in the preceding couple of millennia but on the face of it, we seem to have been on fast-forward from the agricultural revolution onwards. It may sound obvious, but when I look at footage of the post-war England in which my parents grew up, it doesn’t look too dramatically different from my own early years. I was born in the mid-seventies, on the cusp of the information age, but when Joe looks back at that peculiar analogue world, I suspect it will seem incredibly alien.
After all, can you even imagine a world without broadband?! I’m not sure I could any more. I was an inquisitive child and must have driven my own parents up the wall with all my what, how, whys? It’s much easier these days; you just ask Google, and I’m a big Android fan so I really do just ask Google on a regular basis.
Whilst, the Internet is hugely empowering, as a new parent it has suddenly become a much more worrying place. At heart I’m libertarian so I’m uneasy with any centralised policing of the web and see this as being a potentially slippery slope towards authoritarianism. The recent revelations around project PRISM have done little to dispel my concerns. It is heartening to see the web giants taking a united stand in the US Congress on this abuse of power, but I do have to question if any would have felt compelled to do so individually had it not been for Edward Snowden? That said, I am torn because a completely unregulated Internet is terrifying. There are so many things and people on the web that I wouldn’t want my son exposed to.
At base it all comes down to uncertainty. Unlike those of us of Generation X and earlier, Joe doesn’t have the immediate threat of nuclear Armageddon hanging over him – but at least you know where you stand with atomic weapons. There’s still plenty my son will have to contend with – environmental catastrophe, over-population, death at the hand of Google’s robot army perhaps… However, and I do realise how schizophrenic this sounds after voicing my wooly liberalism earlier in this post, what I’m anxious about is individuals.
We’ve gone from a society governed by the grander narratives of ideology to one where individualism reigns. I truly believe in digitial democracy but I have the experience to filter out the voices I don’t want to hear. I’m able to use the technologies at my finger tips and have my own internal “off button” that usually kicks in when I’m reading the comments sections on the websites of certain national newspapers. There’s a lot of stupid (sic) on the Internet. There’s also a lot of cruelty, bigotry and small-mindedness that I wouldn’t want to influence my child – at least until he’s developed his own “off button.”
We all want what’s best for our children and I want my little boy to be able to enjoy his childhood for as long as possible. This means I don’t want him to see violent and/or sexualised images as being normal; I don’t want him to think it’s okay to laugh at other people because they’re different; I don’t want him to viewed as little more than an advertising prospect; and I don’t want anyone to tell him the tooth fairy isn’t real. Most of all I worry about the anonymity of the Internet. I wouldn’t want anyone to say anything to Joe online that they wouldn’t say to his, which translates to my own angry looming, face.
Of course you can’t fight progress and there’s little point trying – just ask the Luddites. I’m a technophile and I suspect that baby Joe will soon become quite adept in the world of technology, or at least those technologies that have child filters, on websites that have strict anti-bullying policies and with strict parental monitoring – who needs the NSA?