The specter of “Internet safety” reared its head last week at the Home and School meeting — there are plans afoot to bring the police into run a session for parents. And while I’m all for helping kids develop skills to keep them out of the hands of the evil-doers, I’m also conscious that concentrating so much on the notion that evil-doers may be lurking behind every corner of the Internet can create fog of paranoia and suspicion that’s not healthy.
I’m not saying “hey, go wild, give out your phone number and my credit card number to that MySpace guy who offers you candy,” but rather “let’s equally as much concentrate on the empowering aspects of this machine as the corrupting ones.”
(I also have my suspicions that a lot of what’s passed off as “Internet safety” is new-style Puritanism, a wrapper for irrational parental fears and ignorance — “censorship lite” under the guise of crime prevention).
When I walked into our den tonight to tell Oliver it was time for bed, here’s what I found in his browser:
Oliver had Googled “obama” — all on his own — and was watching a 2008 Obama campaign speech in Virginia on a YouTube player embedded in the UK-based Socialist Unity website.
Apart from my obvious pride — for Oliver’s ingenuity, spelling, and political tastes — I’m conscious that if Oliver lived in a household with a locked down web browser this might never have happened.
Of course sooner or later Oliver’s going to be Googling for “canoodle” instead of “obama” and he’ll no-doubt run across all manner of porn, hate, and terrorist recruitment. For the moment at least I’m continuing to operate on the assumption that, properly equipped with the mental agility to tell the difference between word and image and action, it’s ultimately worth the risk of his being exposed to evidence of society’s worst if it also means he can use the same machine to learn about society’s best.