‘Why I believe teenagers are online too much’
The internet has transformed our lives, and young people should be aware of the downsides as well as the enormous potential of sharing and experiencing everything online.
I have to admit that InRealLife could do with some more good news stories. How about the brilliant Suli Breaks, whose word poetry inspires hundreds of thousands? Or Wikipedia, which, like millions of people, I consult several times a day for work, for fun, or most often to settle a dispute with one of my kids. The point of my film is not to throw stones at technology – I love the internet, and anyway it’s here to stay. The point is that the online world is developing in ways that I think are worrying, and they disproportionately affect young people.
Many early adopters and contributors to the internet had very utopian ideas about its values. Open, free and democratic, they thought this was technology that would get rid of gatekeepers and remove hierarchies. A very libertarian culture developed around the net: free speech, free market, free access.
But now, if you look at the statistics, the majority of young people spend the majority of their time on sites and using apps that are designed to grab their data and try to sell it to a third party. Many young people think that their privacy is a fair exchange for the services they receive. But what is less understood is that collecting data is such big money that the real point of each of those websites we all visit is simply to keep you attached – to keep your attention – at all costs, whether the content is useful or not, healthy or not, safe or not, fun or not… in order that you create more data… for someone to sell.
The outcome is that the commercial internet is designed to be addictive. And that ‘feeling’ you get – that you just have to respond, check or click – is as powerful as the urge for a cigarette or a drink if you are a smoker or an alcoholic.
A lot of people think they can manage these feelings, but emerging research shows that the under-25s now have less attention span and less of the skills required for ‘in-person contact’ (for example, feeling and showing empathy and making eye contact). Even in very private areas of life, sex and friendship, the addictive nature of everything from pornography to ‘liking’ is making many young people feel overwhelmed.
The internet is a place of wonder and imagination, of curiosity and information. But as it grows it is also getting concentrated in a few hands, all of whom are geared to making unbelievable profit out of your data. Perhaps now is a good time to imagine and then create an internet that does not make us ‘perfect consumers’, manipulated by addictive technologies, lulled into a culture of anonymity and splurging out our data. Then we can use it in more creative ways.
- Do you spend too much or too little time online? Or just the right amount?
- Is it right to use the word ‘addictive’ to talk about experiences rather than substances?
- The free online encyclopaedia, which is written collaboratively online by unpaid volunteers. While being a great achievement, the site’s information is not always 100% correct, so be careful!
- A vision that is idealised to such an extent that it compares to creating an imaginary world, free of the flaws and pitfalls of reality. The word comes from a short fable called Utopia (literally nowhere) written by Sir Thomas More in 1516.
- In this case, information such as your web browsing history, what you buy online, what you ‘like’ and your gender. This data is very valuable for marketing other products and services to you, that you might be likely to buy.
- The ability to be able to identify someone else’s feelings and relate to their experiences, and, following on from that, the capacity to show them that they are understood. Colloquially, ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’.