How do kids conceive the internet? - part 3

I received some feedback on the first part of interviews about the internet with children that I’d like to share publicly here. Thank you! Your thoughts and experiences are important to me!

In the first interview round there was this French girl.

Asked what she would change if she could, the 9 year old girl advocated for a global usage limit of the internet in order to protect the human brain. Also, she said, her parents spend way too much time on their phones and people should rather spend more time with their children.

To this bit, one person reacted saying that they first laughed when reading her proposal, but then felt extremely touched by it.

Another person reacted to the same bit of text:

That’s just brilliant. We spend so much time worrying about how the internet will affect children while overlooking how it has already affected us as parents. It actively harms our relationship with our children (keeping us distracted from their amazing life) and sets a bad example for them.

Too often, when we worry about children, we should look at our own behavior first. Until about that age (9-10+) at least, they are such a direct reflection of us that it’s frightening…

Yet another person reacted to the fact that many of the interviewees in the first round seemed to believe that the internet is immaterial, located somewhere in the air, while being at the same time omnipresent:

It reminds me of one time – about a dozen years ago, when i was still working closely with one of the city high schools – where i’d just had a terrible series of days, dealing with hardware failure, crappy service followthrough by the school’s ISP, and overheating in the server closet, and had basically stayed overnight at the school and just managed to get things back to mostly-functional before kids and teachers started showing up again.

That afternoon, i’d been asked by the teacher of a dystopian fiction class to join them for a discussion of Feed, which they’d just finished reading. i had read it the week before, and came to class prepared for their questions. (the book is about a near-future where kids have cybernetic implants and their society is basically on a runaway communications overload; not a bad Y[oung]A[dult] novel, really!)

The kids all knew me from around the school, but the teacher introduced my appearance in class as “one of the most Internet-connected people” and they wanted to ask me about whether i really thought the internet would “do this kind of thing” to our culture, which i think was the frame that the teacher had prepped them with. I asked them whether they thought the book was really about the Internet, or whether it was about mobile phones. Totally threw off the teacher’s lesson plans, i think, but we had a good discussion.

At one point, one of the kids asked me “if there was some kind of crazy disaster and all the humans died out, would the internet just keep running? what would happen on it if we were all gone?”

all of my labor – even that grueling week – was invisible to him! The internet was an immaterial thing, or if not immaterial, a force of nature, a thing that you accounted for the way you accounted for the weather, or traffic jams. It didn’t occur to him, even having just read a book that asked questions about what hyperconnectivity does to a culture (including grappling with issues of disparate access, effective discrimination based on who has the latest hardware, etc), it didn’t occur to him that this shit all works to the extent that it does because people make it go.

I felt lost trying to explain it to him, because where i wanted to get to with the class discussion was about how we might decide collectively to make it go somewhere else – that our contributions to it, and our labor to perpetuate it (or not) might actually help shape the future that the network helps us slide into. but he didn’t even see that human decisions or labor played a role it in at all, let alone a potentially directive role. We were really starting at square zero, which wasn’t his fault. Or the fault of his classmates that matter – but maybe a little bit of fault on the teacher, who i thought should have been emphasizing this more – but even the teacher clearly thought of the internet as a thing being done to us not as something we might actually drive one way or another. And she’s not even wrong – most people don’t have much control, just like most people can’t control the weather, even as our weather changes based on aggregate human activity.

I was quite impressed by seeing the internet perceived as a force of nature, so we continued this discussion a bit:

that whole story happened before we started talking about “the cloud”, but “the cloud” really reinforces this idea, i think. not that anyone actually thinks that “the cloud” is a literal cloud, but language shapes minds in subtle ways.

(Bold emphasis in the texts are mine.)

Thanks :) I’m happy and touched that these interviews prompted your wonderful reactions, and I hope that there’ll be more to come on this topic. I’m working on it!