‘Could he be serious? Does he want to confirm every person in the country under the age of 30 in their fear that the church is a hopeless case?’ – my initial reaction to Archbishop Vincent Nichols talking about the dangers of social networking sites in general and Facebook in particular. I read what he said. I agree with some of it. I’m not going to suggest that the suicide issue is not a serious one – although it is a heavy charge to lay.
Whatever the concerns, ever-increasing connectivity is a fact of life. Herbert Casson’s History of the Telephone contains a lovely passage which rather breathlessly sets out the limitless potential of the telephone system: ‘to connect one or more points in each and every city, town or place in the city of New York with one or more points in each and every other city …’
I was driving somewhere or other last week and listening to the story of Facebook – Facemash: The Accidental Billionaires. The origins of it lie in the inventor’s desire to get as many pictures of what Father Ted would have called ‘lovely girls’ onto the internet. I have a Facebook page and a quick check today tells me that I have 133 friends. I’m happy about most of it. Among the 133 are old friends whom I would have lost touch with without Facebook. In there are also younger members of my family who seem to think it is safe to have me as a Friend. They communicate incessantly – but I get the feeling that their Facebook communication is mostly ‘out of hours’ communication which tops up their ‘face to face’ communication.
On other levels, I am ambivalent about Facebook. The greatest danger, it seems to me, is that it purports to be a private and ‘between friends’ channel of communication – but it is potentially as public as anything else on the internet. Yes you can take care with your Privacy Settings. But the reality is that it should be treated as being as public as this blog. People don’t realise that. And that’s dangerous.
Surely almost everything we indulge in is risky if done carelessly and especially so if we have some prior vulnerability… Internet interactions without attention to privacy settings; taking Welsh Whisky as a disinfectant against swine flu when visiting for a world cup qualifier (I am not suggesting this works just to be clear!); leaving a child unattended in an unlocked vehicle; or not thinking for ourselves …
Youngsters used to learn about risks and safety through scraping knees as they fell out of trees … it isn’t safe for them to climb trees anymore so where do we learn how to be safe?
The danger of any online interaction is when it becomes obsessive, when it replaces everyday contacts with other people – a handshake, the spoken words, a hug, a soothing sticky plaster on that scraped knee.
Exisitng vulnerability is not picked up by a computer, but then computers are not afraid to engage with vulnerable people either!
No I’m not interested in cotton wool worlds either. And I’m not sure that the on line world is automatically to be considered undesirable. At least it is interactive – unlike the sprawling in front of the telly, etc. I just think that it is very hard to measure the risks involved. You may think you are just chatting to your friends. But, however careful you are with your privacy settings, you should treat it as if you were broadcasting to the world.
I’ve always argued that this in itself is a valuable lesson – and not just for the young. Sadly, too many people in education react like the Archbishop, so there is a constant struggle between advocates of digital literacy and those who think it’s of the devil.
Interesting and informative. But will you write about this one more?
Maybe – it depends where the issue goes
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