Kids Online – InRealLife by Beeban Kidron

InRealLife which is both an investigation into what the internet is – where is it, for starters? And the effect it is having on kids. It was inspired by a friend of hers being upset by a kid being more intrested in her smart phone than the funeral she was attending, then Kidron went into her living room to see 4 teenagers silently lost in their own worlds instead of being teenagers.

The film is scattered with statistics, one is that 90% of the internet content has been put there in the last 3 years. Has there been any new planets discovered, has someone discovered a cure for cancer? No. Most of this stuff is chatter. Kids updating facebook, sharing pics etc.

Her interviews with teens were amazing. Two lads discussing pornography that they watch a lot of. One said he would only be interested in girls who are perfect blonds, but also admitted that the pornography is interfering with how he sees women. How dangerous and potentially criminal is it to base love, and relationships on what is learnt from pornography?

Another girl was hooked on her Blackberry, when she lost it couldn’t afford another, so earned it from strange men. A guy stole it from her, and she chased him and his mates into a park. …she didn’t say if she got it back, but she risked getting a whole lot she didn’t bargain for. Her school forced kids to give up their phones on their way to classes. She bought a cheap one, handed it in, and continued to do her updates throughout the class, totally at a loss as to why she couldnt’ do both the class work and social media at the same time.

another kid hoping to get into Oxford was playing x box 5 hours a day, then 2 hours of YouTube. Kidron pointed out this was full time, when did he get time to study? Well, he didn’t realise he had a problem, nor did he realise how much time he needed to spend preparing for university. This bright student failed to get a place, and seemed genuinely confused as to why.

We were shown where the internet exists, and the most important interchange for it is in New York, hence all the big players are based nearby. People in the industry claimed the internet games are educational but fail to explain how. Educating kids to consume more internet time? They spoke of how kids are encouraged to take in smaller and smaller amounts of information – any more than a single line was ignored.

Comedian Eddie Izzard’s stand up routine spoke of the terms and conditions we all sign. Does anyone read them? One programmer included mention on page 25 that anyone contacting him would get £5,000. It’s never been claimed. One kid accused his parents of being liars because they signed those documents without reading them. He had a point of course, but what’s the alternative. You want the service, you sign. This is not about their service. The huge contracts are about the big boys being free of responsibility. Whatever happens, they are not to blame, and that is one of the ramifications of the internet.

Another is that kids get so used to free stuff, they see no point in paying for it. Many see pirating content ok, ignoring the fact that the content costs money to create, that jobs are on the line.

The swamping of he internet with so much of their junk also means that there is less good stuff out there. When I first started researching history online, there was a lot of reliable, citable information out there. Now, as one of the talking heads said, there’s no money in information on Queen Victoria. Indeed.

Kidron invited all the big players – Apple, Facebook, Google, etc to speak but they declined, though the founder of the much maligned but invaluable Wikipedia, Jimmy Whale did appear.

In the Q&A afterwards, there was discussion of the legal implications of all this stuff flying around, about responsibility for content, that offensive material published physically in this country is subject to the laws of censorship, but if viewed here and produced elsewhere it is beyond the law, hence everyone is heading there.

And the heart breaking interview with a couple who lost their son, cyberbullied into committing suicide. They thought he was safe at home. The dangers to kids have moved from the physical to the online world.

Someone made a comment of how part of the problem is about kids and open spaces. Their grandparents could climb nearby mountains, their parents had parks, clubs, sports. How much of the appeal of the internet is the lack of anywhere else to go, with so much CCTV, the closure of clubs, and urbanisation swallowing up open land? Are kids choosing the internet, or are they being pushed towards it by urbanisation. I also felt sorry for the woman in tears talking of her son’s addiction, how she takes the router to work, she doesn’t know what to do.

I was fascinated by how self aware the kids were in this film. Surely half the battle against addiction is just to admit it exists. Kidron is not against modern media – she relies on it for her career. It is the lack of openness and honesty from the big players that worries her and other parents. the fact that kids are being encouraged to take the easy route, to play games rather than hard work. They are being infantalised, dumbed down, and all in the name of faceless corporations whose interests are in making money, not in their users.

So, what’s the solution? All this stuff needs to be thoroughly looked into, and maybe its time to accept we have to pay for stuff rather than being forced to accept the rubbish that goes with a free service. Because it is not just the wider society that is being harmed, it is these corporations themselves. Where are the next generation of computer geeks to come from? Where our world leaders, our bankers, farmers, scientists and teachers if they are all lost in their little bubbles, they will never learn the skills that the internet has made such promises to provide.

This film is essential viewing for anyone with kids, if they can stop shouting at the screen long enough to take it all in. Terrifying, insightful, and brave. It poses questions that need answers before it is too late for all of us. The internet is a tool for humans, not the other way round.

2 thoughts on “Kids Online – InRealLife by Beeban Kidron

  1. You could be right. I used to get very irritated with my kids being stuck to the screen. Now they’ve grown out of it, somewhat. I think internet use will mature, too. Kids are learning to deal with cyber bullies technologically, to some extent-at least in this playground, if a bully comes up to you, you can shut her out of your personal cyberspace. Although you can’t control what she distributes online. I think even kids are getting more critical of what the internet provides – they don’t necessarily buy into the ‘perfect blonde’ any more or automatically sign up to Twatter.


    • That’s sort of what I got out of the film. Though the examples suggested something pretty horrific going on, it is hard to put all this into context, and I do think a lot of kids are just bored. Give them something better to do and they’ll probably jump at it. Years ago I saw a couple of kids throwing rocks into a fishing lake. I challenged them, told them about the fish, and they ended up finding some watercress to take home to their mums for dinner. The problem with a film is that it’s a series of snapshots, like newspapers we don’t get what happens next.


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