Check out Danah Boyd’s short commentary, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly … and the Internet in Boston Magazine. In the June 15, 2012 piece Boyd describes how fears about children’s safety have curtailed their time out in the real, face-to-face world for several generations. Today many parents have transferred their fears into the digital world.
Boyd points out that many serious behavioral issues, bullying, for instance, have been and continue to be huge problems. Yet they tend to be more frequent and serious face-to-face than in the digital world (though the digital problems get more media coverage). As one of the most well-regarded observers of teen social networking behavior, Boyd conducts research for Harvard’s Berkman Center and for Microsoft.
Much of what a child or teen does online gets added to a digital profile. Even when information is not supposed to be collected, it accumulates – somewhere. Moreover, when a child or adolescent acts impulsively or thoughtlessly online, no way exists to erase or delete a digital mistake. Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society posts a great digital dossier videothat parents and educators may want to use as a conversation tool.
Another public figure has made yet another public digital gaffe, giving parents one more opportunity to engage the family in a discussion about the unrelenting power of digital tools.
Representative Weiner (D-NY) is just the latest, and it looks like public figures and celebrities will continue to make these public mistakes, like clockwork, for a long time to come. We can laugh at the ineptness of these public personalities, but the bottom line is that we are all one instant gratification click away from making a public and embarrassing error.
Although we may worry about the safety of our children and their activities on the web, most of these problems, while alarmingly publicized and widely and repetitively covered in the media, are not the biggest risk for children.
What we should dread, however, is the potential harm from a digital misjudgment spontaneously sent off via e-mail, text, Twitter, voicemail, or whatever else we all find to use in the future. Instant digital missives, unlike the gossipy handwritten notes we adults used to pass around to a few people at school, can instantly become public and humiliating. Or they can lie quietly, waiting in the vastness of the web, until some reason arises for people to seek out information about us.