Friday, August 11, 2006

The Inevitable Leap of Faith

To have a strong belief, or to even believe anything at all, is to be in a constant state of war with the world. This idea does not originate with me. I've heard it in a great many places of late. How important our ideas are to us and how willing we are to walk these streets alone determine how insistent we are in being heard.

This can hardly be unique to modern day people, but the distribution channel of an idea is certainly an ocean compared to the trickling rill of yesterday. We've all read about the internet, its impact on our society in many ways. It has for instance broken up the monopoly that traditional media has on our thinking. The Dan Rathers of the world can no longer get away with fabrication and hope to get away with it.

The most insidious effects though, will not be thoroughly understood for years to come. Ironically, the internet is the life and death of community. The internet brings us all together, people that would never have met, with similar ideas and interests--people that will likely never meet face to face.

When I was a teenager, especially before my dad bought me that rusted out bucket of bolts called a Nova--in Spanish, broken into two words means "Is not going"--for which I am forever grateful by the way, you could distill the essence of my life into one word: boring. So I was forced to go outside and seek out things to do with my friends. The neighbors would have appreciated the internet. Without it, they wouldn't have opened the door to a burning bag of Danny's shit, or to nobody at all, or find their license plates switched with the neighbors, or their garbage cans stacked with all the others in the neighborhood in the middle of the street. We may never have camped out with Heather and Paula, stealing kisses when they would allow, or having them steal a few from us. Would we have bothered to raft down a freezing river, or swam at the Mendenhall glacier, jumped our cars at Dredge lake, or just spent our time idly chatting at Mikes or Georges house? A lot of this was killing time, brought on by a desperate phone call when there was nothing else to do.

Now we have social networking and dating sites. Why waste your time with the annoying kid next door when you can find someone more to your liking online? I can easily see that, as a kid, I would have been too absorbed by chat rooms and sex talk with strangers than to even come out of my room, much less to bother making a phone call, getting together with a bunch of guys to cruise around a town that bored me anyway.

I'm not drawing any hard conclusions here, except to say that my own children will not have carte blanche to roam the virtual halls without having to interact with the real world. At the same time, they have to know how the system works. But they won't need my help for that. The opposite is surely true. I'm already out of touch and have to force myself to try out the latest and the greatest. It's a brave new world that is evolving into an information society, with no boundaries, excepting of course for China and a few other countries that control internet access. I have to say that for the most part I embrace the change. But I fear our kids have to grow up a lot quicker than we did. At some point, sooner that I would like, I'll just have to trust that I have been heard.


Bernita said...

The main thing that bothers me about this new form of communication is the lack of body language training.

Jaye Wells said...

Interesting post, Scott. I've thought about this, and agree with you on many points.

On the other hand, a lot of your shenanigans, as well as ones I got into, wouldn't fly in today's world. Why? How many people are comfortable letting their children run around the neighborhood with no surpervision these days?

I don't know if we're more scared because we should be, or if the media and information culture, both of which promote fear, are to blame.

Anonymous said...

I have to think that the good of the internet overwhelm the bad. But you are right. It is no place for children unsupervised.

Scott said...

Bernita - The internet still has a ways to go as a substitute for human interaction. Someday we'll have a live avatar that represents every feature we would like to have, so that we can virtually make out and more with others that we wouldn't look twice at in the real world.

Jaye - I'm not sure Jaye. I've lived in small towns in small secluded alcoves where the kids were free to roam. I'm sure it is still the same in many places. Even now I live in a nice neighborhood, but happen to know that convicted (but released) sex offenders live within a mile of my house. At what point do I let my kids run at night alone. Surely not as early as mine let me.

Kathleen said...

A good thought-provoking post, Scott. Do kids these days ever get together to play Tag or Red Rover or Hide-and-Seek or my personal favorite, Graveyards' Ghosts? Those were the best times of my life when I look back at my childhood - all the neighborhood kids outside, running around yelling and having a good time.

Scott said...

Jason - I think so too actually. It's uncharted territory, much like the old west where someone could get killed for looking crosseyed at the wrong person. It will be tamed at some point, but at what cost? Hopefully not freedom.

Scott said...

Here here Kat. We can't rob children of those times, because adults don't have nearly that kind of fun. Not without drugs anyway.

Moni said...

Awesome post Scott, I have concerns about the very same thing.
I remember as a kid roaming the neighborhood playing with all the kids. Of course times are different now, it's a safety issue.

It makes me think that as a society we will soon loose our sense of compassion and just the simple pleasure of human touch(not sexual). How we relate to others in a social situation will somehow be stunted.

On the internet there is safety in the fact that if you're having a bad day, look a mess or whatever the case may be; you simple don't have to talk to anyone. Not so, in real like, you just have to deal with the fact that you're having a bad day and get over it.

The internet is a great tool and it can bring us together in ways we could not have imagined. But, it can also serve to make us become a mechanical and cold. I think human relation is two fold you can have the sensitivity, but without the human touch...then we are all strangers.

Sorry for babbling, I'm not used to thinking, and that's what your post made me do. :)

fringes said...

The girls who lived on my childhood street made my life miserable. I would have killed for online friends in those days. I still had to interact with kids at school and on my baseball team, so it would have balanced out, just like it balances for most kids today.

magnetbabe said...

I think internet access is an awesome and powerful tool- and a responsibility. I heard a story last week on NPR called "Tweens and the Media" about how kids are exposed via the internet and TV to so much more than they ever have been in the past. But developmentally, kids are still kids and they may be unready or uncomfortable with this responsibility. And you can do all the shielding you want, but who's to say that your sons' friends won't expose them to things because their parents aren't as conscientious as you? I'm not a parent yet myself, but even I see how different things will be for my kids compared to twenty years ago when I was little.

But, the hopeful part of me says that things won't be better or worse for my kids, just different. They will most likely be smarter than I and more tech-savvy at the expense of Red Rover (which I hated, BTW) and Hide-and-Go-Seek. So all in all I guess I think it's a tradeoff that we must educate ourselves about and find the best strategy to cope with in this changing world.

Sorry, I know this is getting long but Scott I must take issue with your first paragraph. I don't think people are ostrasized for having beliefs and opinions in this society. However, they are ostracized for having the "wrong" beliefs. That's part of what our current administration has done: you can have strong opinions as long as it comes in the form of an Eagle, a US flag or a Jesus fish. It's dissention, not belief that is frowned upon.

Flood said...

You know, adults spending time on the net can kinda be traced back to the couple-friends you posted about before. It's easy to find like-minded people here and ignore anything you disagree with.

Writing Blind said...

These kids live in an entirely different world these days. It makes me a little sad for them because they seem to grow up so much faster. They're hurtling toward adulthood without taking time to notice the world around them.

trinamick said...

I live in a small town where kids still roam freely, riding their bikes to the swimming pool daily. Some of my neighbors gripe about the kids running the neighborhood. I'm just thrilled to see there are kids who still want to be outside playing. Who cares if they run through my lawn sprinkler? I wish I could still get by with that. At least they're not parked in front of a TV, cross-eyed and drooling.

Jaye Wells said...


I have to take exception to the last part of your comment. Your reasoning about this administration not allowing opposition is a stretch. Look at any blog, television news outlet or Op-Ed and you'll see plenty of opposition to this country, this war, and this president. Dissention is in no short supply.

Tee said...

Good post.

My kids have a computer in their room and my husband wanted to hook it up to the internet. He doesn't use the computer much and didn't understand why I looked at him like he was completely insane.

I don't plan to let my kids have internet access in the bedroom even when they're teenagers - ESPECIALLY when they're teenagers. The computer stays in a common room with lots of foot traffic :)

Scott said...

Whew, I stepped away and came back to all this. Here goes my lunch hour!

Note to all: I realize that politics is a sticky subject. I support our efforts in war on terror. I believe we are really doing so, unlike many of my good friends, who believe we are in Iraq for the oil, or as a distraction from policy changes that erode our freedoms for the purpose of enriching the already incredibly rich. Please do not take offense to my opinions, which are always up for debate. I won't promise that I've never lost my cool in these kinds of conversations, but I'm pretty good at doing so.

Moni - Maybe we'll never lose the desire to touch one another, even in the non-sexual way, because on a human level we need to be touched. No amount of technical disconnect can change that.

Erica - Good point, and kind of what I'm thinking. We cannot let kids go crazy with the internet and all the other distractions, but on some level kids will take care of themselves. And that's an important part of growing up, part of the learning.

Nat - I'll just skip to the end on yours, which is the fun part of course =8>) Maybe you feel that way because the reaction to anti-war people from their opposition is so intense. This administration didn't invent a whole new breed of squashing the competition, but they certainly are good at it. There is plenty, and I mean plenty of outspoken critics of the war and this administrations's policies. So much so that the left's propagandist expression, "Bush lied and people died" is accepted as incontrovertible truth, even though prominent democrats lined up to declare the truth of the evidence beforehand. Democrats would be in power right now if they had employed some finesse on national security. Instead they push their own lie and half the country believes it, and the rest are getting tired of fighting it. Now a thwarted terrorist plot thanks to the Patriot Act and wire taps. All I can think is thank goodness John Kerry isn't president right now. The left will come up with the clever hypothesis that Bush and company planned this just in time for midterm elections, and it will be believed by just less than half, just enough to undo whatever progress the left has made.

Flood - Good point. And there is no pressure to speak of.

Rebecca - Yeah, I worry about that too. At the same time, I know kids are capable of great things at a young age. We like to keep them innocent, but that could turn out deadly.

Trina - Well then, it may be sun starved out there, but lacking none for good times. You are fortunate.

Jaye - I have to agree with you. What war opponents suffer from is public backlash in some areas of the country. Like the Dixie Chicks for instance, who decided to mouth off in another country that they were ashamed to be from the same state as their president. It's their right to say it, and that's why they're not in jail. But I sure didn't like it, and a whole lot of other people didn't either.

Tee - Good idea. Someday though, they will find out how to get around your security system. Best to talk and talk and talk about it.

magnetbabe said...

Are you referring to the recent thwarted terrorist attack? Because that was Britain, not us who thwarted it.

I was not a huge Kerry fan, but I don't see how a person could think things would be worse if he were in charge. Things couldn't be worse right now. That's the incontrovertible truth. It doesn't matter if I or anyone else thinks Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld (fill in the blank at this point) lied or thinks we're there because of oil or policy disctraction or Al Quaeda or whatever. The truth is it's not getting better.

I'm not saying the right invented squashing the competition, I'm saying the adminisration (which is a mutant breed of republicanism that many conservatives have now distanced themselves from) in the process of selling the case for war played the "you're either with us or with the terrorists" card and completely polarized their own people. So much so that the people in power have successfully painted themselves and their followers as the only God-fearing patriots in America. And people who have respected the idea of democracy, questioned authority and maintained skepticism, well we're just a bunch of terrorist-loving heathens. Which, by the way, are now being made to look like hysterical conspiracy theorists on top of it!

Jaye, I never said we weren't "allowed" a dissenting opinon. No, the right is much too clever for that. I merely suggested that was the strategy for gaining suport. While currently there is much dissention, think back to the early days of the war when boycotters were ridculed and made to look like heretics. The majority of dissenters now claim to have always been against the war. Where were they 3 and a half years ago? It was difficult to get the ball rolling to speak out against the war. It took the deaths of literally thousands of our soldiers for people to speak out.

Sorry to get this thing started. I didn't mean to start talking about the war, just to talk about the reaction to it. Plus it's slow here today ;)

Valannin said...

Does everything dissolve into a discussion about terrorism? If you see zefrank's show from yesderday, he makes a good point: terrorists only succeed when there is terror to be had. The less educated the populace, the more fear there is. And I think that speaks directly to the topic at hand.

Scott, I have to say that when I was but a wee lad, with the exception of "schoolnights" I was permitted to roam as far from my house as my bicycle could take me. My friends and I engaged in all of the "cliche" childhood games including "manhunt" (which for some reason we calle Ringolevio" on Long Island), "hade and seek" and yes, even "spin the bottle". Not one kid was ever hurt, killed, maimed, molested, shot, stabbed, drugged, raped, or died of an imaginary peanut allergy. Our parents trusted us because they were the final word of authority, and we respected what they told us.

With the internet, and unchecked media, instruction comes from every angle, and only the savviest of children will be able to discern what is acceptable, and moral, and what is dangerous and unethical. We didn't have "Jackass" when I was a kid, so any child found jumping off a roof into a pile of dog shit wasn't prasied as a hero, he was denounced as, well, a jackass. And these kids, the ones who are able to separate fact from fiction, stupid from wise are the products of intelligent, well-prepared parents. Which sadly, I would venture to say that most parents today are not. They are greedy, disinterested adults who raise apathetic spoiled children. not to mention the fact that parents today are so damn protective of their children, it's almost sickening. Did you have Purell hand sanitizer when you were 12? Hell no. You dropped your medium rare hamburger on the ground, you picked it up and ate it. Not today, not in this frightened environment.

I don't have children, but if I did, they would be raised the exact same way my parents raised me: no leash, no apron strings, but certainly not without boundaries. A nice middle ground. They will know from day 1 what is "right" and what is "wrong", and I will instill in them a sense of parental piety that is sadly lacking in today's households.

I'm glad I didn't have the internet when I was in my formative years -- I had enough trouble being a wise ass (go figure) without being fat, lazy, spoiled, coddled, and having the realities and complexities of life eclipsed by the mind-numbing fantasy world of the computer.

But that's ok for us adults. :)

Jada's Gigi said...

read a similiar article in Newsweek about sidewalks and neighborhoods...and its today odn't get out nearly enough...and i mean that literally...they don't get bored and have to play with thevkid next door who smells funny or have to make up games or find short cuts home or whatever...Lot to be said for childhood and having time to jsut hang...a lotta life is learned by just hanging...internet is a blessing and a curse but like most things I think...should be taken and allowed in moderation.

Liked the Musical Drug is certianly a drug for me...and one habit I have no intention of breaking..:)

Toni Anderson said...

I heard some horrendous stories about paedopiles stalking the chat rooms from a police woman in Reno. She was pretending to be 14, the judge wouldn't allow her to say she was younger. And guys would target her and try to meet up with her and send her gifts (as in laptops). It is a dangerous place when virtual crosses over into your physical realm.

Keeping up is good--knowing what your kids are doing is very important. Here's to trying to keep them safe.

Scott said...

Nat - No worries. I don't mind the discourse--actually, I love it, but it can take so much energy sometimes--it's just that it can be upsetting to some.

I am reading around and don't see anything to back up what I heard, that NSA wiretaps had something to do with this. Certainly intelligence cooperation between the UK/US and Pakistan played a huge role in thwarting this. The UK police have greater ability to investigate terrorists than we do, and I think we should also have that lattitude. Toast had a bad experience, having been strip searched. But I support profiling, searching those that fit the description.

How could things be worse? The attack could have succeeded, and others could have too. Suspects that would otherwise have participated in other attacks could be walking the streets right now. The whole premise of left thinking is that the administration is ruling by fear, creating bogeymen for us to be afraid of. I'm not calling you or anyone else a conspiracy theorist for believing it. No doubt any theory could be true, but that doesn't make it true. I believe that the Democratic leadership is selling a bill of goods to jockey themselves into power, nevermind what they really believe.

Valannin - I would probably let my kids skin themselves up a bit more if were more to my wife's way of thinking, so we compromise. Still, they are growing up quite well. I know parents all say that, but I talk to my six year old all the time about things like drugs, predators, even war and the reasons people fight. I might have made a mistake when I told him that the earth would some day blow up, but you get my point. I think your kids will be the better for it, but you will likely modify your plans somewhat when that little life fits in the palm of your hand. There really is no telling beforehand.

Cheryl - Thanks for adding to kids discussion. Interesting that it seems to be a theme popping up in the media. Thanks for reading the music post. I had fun with that one.

Toni - There was a frontline investigation too, and it was amazing how normal these people look, and the total lack of guilt for getting caught.

mr. schprock said...

I trust my kids a lot with the Internet. The oldest one is no longer into instant messaging and chat rooms, but the younger is a big My Space fan and always has AIM running. Lately I've been trying to limit it, but she does have an active social life in the "real world" . . . assuming "The Matrix" isn't true, that is.

Bhaswati said...

This is a crucial topic. I really feel for kids of this generation. They hardly get to see the sky or get their feet dirty in puddles while playing hide-n-seek. For as silly as those activities are, they bring about human contact, something so vital for the growth of children.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

I think it's a good idea to try and divide kids time equally between the net and the outside world.

The various subtleties that lie along the line between the two will eventually present themselves, and they will be able to successfully draw conclusions about the gap between the real and the virtual.