The Tricks of The Digital Era

LAKSHMI on November 01, 2017

Trick or Treat

Horror may be fun on Halloween but can wear a less entertaining costume in the digital age. To me, a reluctant immigrant into the digital domain, and parent to boot, there is a trick to every treat that the era offers. As I see my teenager smiling coyly into her smartphone, I wonder if she is e-flirting with a classmate. Before long, the brain goes into hyperdrive – is she sexting? Isn’t she too young to be sexting? How dare she sext? What if her message goes viral à la revenge porn? Hyperventilating, I confront the smiling kid, who shows me Jon Cozart’s Harry Potter in 90 seconds, which she has been trying to memorize, and the cortisol-overloaded brain calms down instantly. Treat, one, Trick, none.

This may have been a false alarm, but the dangers of the digital era are very real. While they do not outweigh the benefits just yet, awareness is key to survival. A few dangers of the digital age, some well-known and some not as much, are listed below:

  • Pervasiveness of information: The strength of the Internet is that it is pervasive and a co-human being has as much access to it as oneself. Any information, once posted, unless constrained by privacy settings, is available to all and sundry and can provoke reactions commensurate to the nature of the communication. There are at least 25 types of Facebook updates that have led to the firing of employees from their jobs, it seems.

  • Permanence of information: Deleting is never really deleting and it is always possible to unearth skeletons long buried. One of the repeated pieces of advice I give my digital native, in this regard, is this: Do not post anything you wouldn’t want your enemy, your teacher, your principal, or your mother to see anywhere online – even in a one-on-one digital conversation. This is especially true of the language used. While peer pressure may motivate a youngster to use inappropriate language online, the words can bite back at a later time, perhaps during a job search. The Internet is full of news of people who were fired/not hired because of an apparently inappropriate photo posted at a different time and place.

  • Mindlessness in surfing: The Internet can be the worst of time sinks, where one click leads to another and before long, not only has a sizable chunk of time been lost to useless site-hopping, but the risk of landing on age-inappropriate sites has also multiplied many-fold. Installing parental control software can help in restricting access to inappropriate sites, but site-hopping as a time sink can only be tackled through discipline and self-control. Awareness and guidance is key to hop around the rabbit hole of internet addiction caused by mindless surfing.

  • Talking to strangers: The anonymity possible on the Internet affords a deceptive comfort of safety, which has masked the self-preserving inhibition in revealing personal information to strangers. Stranger danger is just as serious in online existence as in real life. It is not difficult to trace one’s every move online and anonymity is not a protective curtain behind which to hide anymore.

  • Privacy: There are two different dimensions to privacy – third party privacy and social privacy. A study showed that while adults (parents) were more concerned about companies monitoring their online behavior, teenagers were more concerned about account hacking and reputation management among their peers. Either way, privacy is an important issue and it is important for both adults and youngsters to be proactive about guarding it. This is particularly important in the light of a recent finding that the way teens learn how to manage privacy risk online is very different from an adult’s approach to privacy management; while most adults think first and then ask questions, teens tend to take the risk and then fire-fight.

  • Blind trust: Adolescents (and most adults) are often ignorant about the veracity and trustworthiness of information available online. This is a predominant cause of mass hysteria spread by social media. It is important to check the authenticity of facts found online, especially on social media before reacting to it. A related matter is the belief in the picture-perfection of other people’s lives as seen in social media. This is a subtle belief that can lead to dissatisfaction in one’s own life and the compulsive need to one-up the other.

  • Respect to other people’s content: the awareness of copyright issues is almost non-existence in the internet domain. The extensive sharing of information online, especially in social media, makes the copyright issues fuzzier than ever before. Plagiarism and illegal downloads are not only unethical but also liable for legal prosecution, which cannot be circumvented by the excuse of ignorance.

  • Exhibition of emotional vulnerability: Emotions and the ability to communicate them differentiate humans from other life forms (most other, at least). However, communicating emotions in the digital domain can be fraught with dangers. Predators could capitalize in on the vulnerability and cause harm. Even a temporary show of emotional instability could have far-reaching consequences; the arrest of a student for a violent post on Reddit is a classic example. It is best to stay away from the digital media when emotions are unsteady and communicate directly to a well-wisher instead, to avoid later complications that may arise from the show of emotional vulnerability.

Cyberbullying, cyber-stalking, the decline in social skills etc. are well-known dangers and both children and parents are, thankfully, becoming increasingly aware of these pitfalls of social media and digital communication.

Before concluding this post, I show it to my soon-to-be fourteen-year-old, hoping to educate her on the dangers of the digital era into which she was born. I mention to her that there are many more horrors, and we must, at some point, sit and discuss all of it. The child nods assent and says that I have already missed out the greatest horror of all - that the Wi-Fi is kaputt!

To each, her own.

 

 
Writing credit: Authored by Lakshmi, a Mobicip researcher and digital immigrant who constantly learns more about internet trends from her daughter in order to bridge the digital divide.
 
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