Friday, June 6, 2008

Webcams, Hot teens, and Youtube: "WHY?"

Recently I was watching the news, and I caught a story about how teenagers were using webcams and cell phones and taking nude pictures of themselves. These pictures would then be traded around to their friends, and eventually, through ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, or through the exhibitionism of the teen, would wind up on the internet on various and sundering websites, usually reserved for pedophiles and the like. The piece was meant to shock parents and other people about the evils of the internet, about the promiscuity of teenagers today, about how wrong everything in today's world actually is. And the news story stopped there.

The problem that this news story does is that it never digs below the surface, to find out the root of the issue. It never lifts the rock to find the things wiggling under the surface. The piece was constructed to link with the moral principles of the viewing public, to shock the Religious Right into seeing just how bad their kids actually are. But it was never made to seek the answer "Why?"

Why is it that teenagers today are doing things that could only be done with the Polaroid camera many years ago. Now, mind, I'm sure that the Polaroid was used for just such practices, but there was no way for every single person on Earth see it afterward. At the most, they might have been floated around at school, or hid under a bed, but usually the people that saw such pictures were people that knew the person in question. Nowadays, with the Internet and its endless capacity to store videos, pictures, sound bites...etc... and with the technology now cheap enough and available enough for every teenager in America to have access to such a device (digital camera, cell phone, camcorder...etc...), it is just a matter of a few mouse clicks and pictures au natural can be floated on the internet for all to see. The anonymity of such an act can be intoxicating, the wide scope of the internet would make one think that even if a picture was posted, no one would see it, because the odds of meeting someone who actually did see it would be astronomical, based on the number of people who view the internet each day and their distance from the person.

Also, the prevalence of porn on the internet, especially those sites of every day "amateurs," like college students, who are paid many dollars to pose (and do other things) makes it so much more acceptable, in the minds of today's teens, to do the same thing.

I do not think that people should be surprised that sexual photos, or even videos, would show up on the internet. We find it normal that videos of violence, accidental or otherwise, comic or otherwise, would show up on places like Youtube and Myspace. What makes people so shocked that sex would not be there just as much as violence is? Anyone can do it, and with the now easy availability of the technology to actually make such photos/videos, inevitability takes over.

(Before I go on, notice that I am not evaluating the moral or religious consequences of the acts, only why and how it's happening. When looking at any issue, it is often valuable to take a look at it from a perspective of a scientist or anthropologist, who would look at the patterns in human society and determine why something is happening, not evaluate the moral implications of the act.)

So availability of technology is one thing, but there's another reason why self-pornography is becoming more and more prevalent.

Neil Postman (see earlier blogs for a series on his work and the application to today's world (he died in the 1980's, well before the Internet became commonplace. Would that he had lived to expound his theories to today's world.)) theorized in The Disappearance of Childhood that the control of information between adults and children is the most important aspect in determining the growth of the child. (The parent raises the child, makes sense.) But in some societies, both historical and presently, that is exactly what does not happen. We are living in a revolutionary time where the amount of information that is available expounds itself quite frequently. There are millions of Terabytes of information (and when I talk about information, I mean anything that we can see, hear, or process through into our brains.) being created and disseminated every day. Televisions shows, radio, music, web sites updated daily, and all being thrown out into the world unedited and unsupervised. Now, if parents were able to intercept all this stimuli, and feed children only what they could process or should process, then the child would have an incremental growing up, where stage by stage they are exposed to the world and all its wonders and horrors. This is called Childhood. But when all the information is thrown at a young human being, and they process it as best they can, but have learned basically everything that an Adult has, they have had no incremental learning, and therefore never have had a childhood at all.

Thus children see Ultimate fighting on tv, and then adults are shocked to see videos of 8 year olds pummeling each other bloody, with their friends all watching. They see sit-coms on television and then become experts at telling off their parents in disrespectful ways. Every parent becomes Homer Simpson or Peg Bundy. They see pornography on the internet and figure, "Why not, I can do it, too." So it should hardly be surprising what is being done in imitation of the adult world. Yet sweeps month comes around and all these shocking stories of girls video taping violent confrontations, or kids trading nude pictures of each other, are shown with "shock and awe," to prime-time viewers every night.

So I'm saying that all children should be blocked from TV and Internet until their 18 years old, and we should all home school our children...etc... No, of course not. I have no answer to the issue at hand, and as for an ethical conversation, that is for the individual to have with his or her family, with himself, and with God.

One opinion that I will give is that the people who produced the piece should be educated enough to be familiar with Postman's theories, and to realize that a lot of the acts that go on in today's world are simply imitations of the information given out by the media. Perhaps this is left out intentionally, because there is nothing that will attract people to the Internet or to TV more than sex and violence, and the advertising that goes along with it. To influence our shopping habits and to direct our lives is too tempting not to report on all aspects of a story, including the ones that might implicate the media itself. I think it's necessary, nevertheless, to know why an issue is important, to see how it effects my life and the lives of those around me, and to be able to look at all sides of an issue. If we are to simply accept what goes on in the world around us as inevitable, let us at least know why something is happening, so that we can change it if we need to.


[Addendum to this blog, as I don't know where to fit it in. Perhaps one reason why teenagers find no problem in posting pictures of a risque fashion on the internet is because they are self-absorbed enough not to understand the implications of such an act. I found it interesting that a critic for the movie Cloverfield described the twenty-somethings living in New York City as the Myspace Generation (see my blog on that review). It is ironic that the main video camera of that movie was a digital camcorder, much like the ones teens use today to place stuff on Youtube or Myspace. Also, note that for some reason, I found very little sympathy for the deaths of those teens as the monster attacked the city. I find it ironic that with the increase in social networks, in public exposure to everyone's private lives, that it actually is de-personalizing us, making us just one more character in a movie, one more red-shirted ensign to be slaughtered by an alien presence. I think honestly, if we are to have a social network, it should be done in person, away from the computers and the cell phone texting. It amazes me what people say to each other on these networks, calling each other all sorts of names, which, if said in real life, would result in a black eye. But here, on the Internet, all things are anonymous, and fleeting, even if they will stay in electronic databases for as long as the mainframes survive. There are some databases that have recorded Usenet conversations and arguments back some 20 years. I would not be surprised if I could find what I said to people on the Monkees News groups back when I was a freshman in College. So while the internet might be anonymous, and fleeting, it does remember everything, and it takes a little searching by the right people to uncover it. ]


Oh, and on a personal note, I just mowed a third of our backyard, which I do once a year whether it needs it or not. :)

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