The internet of things has changed our lives completely. We do have to participate in it, with its pitfalls and promise, but we must do so mindfully and proactively, setting boundaries for ourselves and our most precious treasures, our children writes Alison Scott.
“A very little key opens a very heavy door,” wrote Charles Dickens well ahead of his time. He referred to a piece of metal cut into a specific shape and used for opening or closing a lock.
Today, he would be speaking to passwords, internet access and facial recognition. Keys start engines. Keys represent permission to enter. Keys open access to ideas, places, and spaces.
They are essential and at the heart of every idea and every body of knowledge. Keys keep belongings safe and create safety.
We are generally selective about giving keys out. Except it seems, to our children.
Adults control access
We give children the most powerful of keys, the golden keys to a global world, without much thought. For ‘golden keys’ read, smart devices; internet access; social media accounts and an opportunity to be out of sight and secretive.
These keys open up ideas, connections and access to paradigms we ourselves have not yet traversed or understood as adults.
Adults can be reckless
Caring guardians seem to abandon all caution about giving out cyber ‘keys’. We do so irresponsibly because it is the path of least resistance.
Forget about keys to the car; keys to the house; keys to success; keys to literacy; keys to lock up belongings for safety; keys to understanding; keys to creativity. We offer our children as young as three years of age: keys to isolation; keys to a distorted body image; keys to addiction; keys to inattention; keys to strangers.
We even lie to give them access
At thirteen years of age, many apps offer the chance fraternise with ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ in communities well outside of a person’s lived social world.
The only key needed, to be reached by just about any one of the billions of people online, is a date of birth and a series of letters and numbers you assign to yourself. None of this information is authenticated and any data will do.
Parents even help generate the hogwash so desperate they are to have their offspring accepted. Defying age restrictions, children at eight to ten years of age are given such powerful keys by their parents to do with what they like.
They hand over their neurological, social and emotional development to software engineers looking to rewire the human cognition for addictive and impulsive behaviour. It’s just ‘gaming’ and a ‘closed group chat’, right?
Online and underage
The World Economic Forum in its Global Risks Report 2013, ten years ago, already called the global environment a “digital wildfire”. Authors and researchers Holloway, Livingston and Green in the book Zero to Eight.
Young Children and Their Internet Use, noted that a decade ago that young children used smart devices to access the internet regularly.
Their study found that in South Korea 93 percent of three to nine-year-olds averaged eight to nine hours a week online; 25 percent of American three-year-olds, 50 percent of five-year -olds and 70 percent of eight-year-olds logged online every day.
In Australia, 79 percent of children aged between five and eight years of age went online at home. Fifty percent of Swedish children age three to four-years-old used tablet computers and 25 percent used smartphones. Twenty-three percent of zero to six-year-old children in Norway accessed touch screens in their homes.
In Germany, 17 percent of families with children aged three to seven and 18 percent of families with children six to 11 had access to tablets with touch screen features.
In 2011- 2012, in the United Kingdom, the figures were recorded similarly children with internet access and devices are likely to access games and social media networks and become interested in playing games online by the age of four years.
All this data is before any pandemic plummeted the world’s education system online.
Parents have a powerful role
Parents unlock access to their child on every level – physical, emotional, social and spiritual. They give a virtual key to anyone in the world who might want to reach the child. They open up the Internet of things and fail to keep a boundary of safety around their child.
Nothing separates a child user from others online, including some who will make not one decisions in the interest of a child and who will exploit every angle for income. The net is a market driver (think nag purchasing) and is quickly enabled to promote a cause (think ISIS recruitment across the world).
Children’s data and movement become part of the cesspool that is mined information to perfect artificial intelligence. It hardly drives a humanitarian cause forward, does it?
A digital life is here to stay
The world has long plummeted into a fourth industrial revolution reality. Smart devices, media rich data and global connections are here to stay. There is much promise in the advances in medicine, communication and education.
AI is developing faster than regulations, jobs we know are becoming redundant, and the skills we need in even three years’ time are still not well understood.
Guard your treasure
The Internet of things has changed our lives completely. We do have to participate in it, with its pitfalls and promise, but we must do so mindfully and proactively, setting boundaries for ourselves and our most precious treasures, our children.
Think twice before you hand over the keys.
* Alison Scott is the executive Principal of Bellavista School.
** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.