Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Future of Childhood. (Capitalism and the Internet) (Last One)

Okay, last one in this series... I promise. There's so much else I want to talk about, but the argument has to be taken to it's final step. The interesting thing about Postman's work is that, when he published the revised edition, it was only the middle 80's, and many things hadn't been invented yet that were as important to his theories as Television or the printing press. I want to extend the argument into the 21st century, specifically the effect that computers and the Internet affect the way that childhood is defined.

At the very end of the book, Postman expresses optimism that the computer, in the state it was in in the mid-80's, would help to create a new need for childhood based on the idea that until a child could learn the computer, and the complex languages and programs it contains, that education would still be needed, that parents and educators would still be able to control the amount of information that was given to kids. Of course, this doesn't work, because Postman didn't foresee the inevitable invasion of capitalism into making the computer a user-friendly operating system. In fact, the computer put most of the world's information into the hands of children more easily. Today's youth were not afraid of the technology associated with the computer as some adults were, and so they learned how to manipulate the computer and its software at a faster rate than their older counterparts. Essentially, the children have become the adults. The opposite of what Postman wanted has happened. The internet has made childhood disappear even faster. Further, certain aspects of the internet have made this transfer of information even quicker. Briefly, here's what Postman would be cringing about.

The increase in download speed that accompanied the fiber-optic craze of the 1990's has made downloading anything incredibly easy. During dial-up speeds, it took about 4 minutes to download a meg of information (at least, that was my experience.) Most mp3 files being 5 megs, it would take 20 minutes to download a song. Now take burned DVDs that run 4 gigs of data. Because of the speed and convenience of cable or dsl modems, children can now download and burn almost anything. This, of course, brings to the hands of children offensive or mature music, mature videos, and violent viral videos that have saturated the net as of late. Children then (without self-discipline or the knowledge of right and wrong) will imitate those videos, and begin talking with the language found in most rap songs nowadays. The whole idea of withholding information from children until they have developed enough self-discipline and control to grasp these more mature ideas goes out the window. So does the feeling of shame when a child hears an offensive word or does something that the parental guardian says is wrong. Therefore, there is no childhood. As most of the time, it is adults that are performing these songs and acting in the videos, it is further proof that there isn't really any adulthood either.

Secondly, capitalism has found its way into the Internet and has taken a firm hold on controlling today's youth. From pop-up images to commercials on the edges (or the middle) of a web page, children are inundated with the impulses of capitalism. But these are so much worse than a commercial on television because these advertisements are interactive. They are games, screensavers, flashing lights and stimulation that catch even the smartest people off guard. A flame screensaver? Great! Except with it comes software that embeds itself inside your computer and keeps track of everything you do and sends you e-mails, pop up ads, and other more malignant methods of flooding your system with unneeded stimuli. And it's practically free, so there's no risk in doing it. If even one person invests in whatever it is they're selling, the flooding of spam is worth it. Of course, this is not even going into the keyloggers and other spyware put on systems by commercial advertisements that steal credit card numbers, passwords, and the like.

And speaking of Credit Cards, now with the invention of credit card gift certificates, children can order items online. Credit card companies market these to kids, knowing that they spend voraciously, and instantly become consumers , an untapped market that will make realators billions. It also makes it much easier to let kids buy items that they shouldn't be buying in the first place. Surreptitious buying of items also deludes the boundaries between childhood and adulthood. Like I said, they are now all just consumers.

So, to wrap this all up... Postman leaves his book open, without providing any solutions to any of it. Perhaps because when one is looking at how our society is constructed, you can't really place any ethical value on whether childhood (as defined) is truly necessary. If society has changed to the point in which having a childhood is no longer necessary, then we must look at how to affect the discipline and education of our young without setting the scaffolding of childhood that have clearly become antiquated. One of the main differences is that childhood has become a term of nostalgia for most older generations (while on the other hand, if you ask someone who is 25 or so, their opinion is quite the opposite. Middle school for me was a living hell.) And like most things that disappear, we try our hardest to hold on to them, almost to the point of being blind to the direction that our society is going in. If we are to continue embracing capitalism, and continue using visual media as a method of communication, we must accept the changes this has on the social structure. There will be no more childhood, and no more adulthood. The terms become irrelevant. This clashes with the moral attitudes of our society, which still holds on to the idea that children and adults are fundamentally different, and that children must be protected from violence, sex, language, ... etc... However, with the copious amounts of information that is exposed to children on a daily basis, this can hardly be expected to continue. There will come a point when the divisions fall away, and children and adults are treated exactly the same. Whether or not this is right or wrong, I do not know. Sociological questions such as these cannot be answered morally. There will be problems, and there will be benefits. Aldous Huxley said, at the end of the prologue of BNW, "You pays your money, and you makes your choice." (something like that.) We must take the consequences of following the capitalist structure we have naturally fallen into. We must accept the repercussions of communicating visually over the previous literal way, both bad and good. Our society has become one of instant, emotional consumers that will think little about the arguments of an issue or the practicality of an act. But perhaps that risk taking is a good thing, after all. It is the speed in which we live that will take us all, adult and child, to realize that we can reach our goals. A capitalist society is an expanding one, and there is nothing like expansion to bring about exploration, discovery, and above all, hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment