I sat down and prepared for the interview with the old man. He had retired from teaching almost twenty years before, and was always a source of good material. I always liked talking to him because he never let me guess what he was thinking. He always let me know straight up what was on his mind.
He looked at me and sighed. You and your silly computers, I could almost hear him saying it in his mind.
“So, tell me” I asked, getting out my laptop and my camcorder “What would you take off of the Internet if you could?”
“First of all, I want you to know that I think everyone has the right to do whatever he wants. But, I think there should also be some limits” he said. “Just limits…not censorship mind you, just limits. You know, to keep the kids safe.”
“I see,” I started to type “Keep the kids safe. So tell me, what would you limit?”
“Girlie sites. Pictures of women and men cavorting around in all manner of undress. Hate them. There is nothing good about them. All of those, as they say ‘adult sites,’ he gestured the quotation mark in the air with his weathered hands “need to be taken off. Take them down. Ain’t nothing adult about them.”
“Okay I said, “You are in favor of removing all ‘adult’ content from the Internet”
“Yep” he said. “serves no purpose.”
“Go on,” I prodded.
“And the hate sites, you know, the Nazi sites, the bigot sites, the sites that just espouse venom from one group to another. Take them down too.” He chewed a little bit on his gum and took a sip from his iced tea. “They need to be limited.”
“So, adult sites and hate sites.”
“And there are sites out there that show death and destruction. Objectionable pictures. Bad stuff. Kids don’t need that stuff. Get rid of that.”
“Adult sites, hate sites, and sites that show death and destruction.” I repeated.
“Yep. Oh, and commercial sites. There are just too many darn commercial sites on the Internet. Kids get trapped into those. Think they are looking at cartoon characters and all of a sudden they are asking their parents to buy them something. Commercial sites. No good. Limit them too.”
“So, you would turn off adult sites, hate sites, sites that show death and destruction, and commercial sites?” His list was getting pretty long.
“Yep. And I would get rid of those political sites. Vote for this, vote for that. I am better than my opponent. It is all lies. They are all crooks. Kids don’t need that.”
“Let’s see…adult sites, commercial sites, political sites, objectionable sites, hate sites. That’s quite a list there Old Timer.” I started to put away my laptop. “I guess I am through here. See ya next week. Thanks.”
“I’m not done son,” he said “Open up that computer.”
I reopened up the laptop and waited for the word processor to come back on.
“Okay,” I said, “go on”
“Religion. Need to get rid of those sites too. Religion hasn’t done anything good in all the history of mankind. So all of those sites that come from some religion’s point of view need to be taken down. My religion is better than your religion. Your religion is better than my religion. Yuck” he paused, “limit them too, for the kids. They can’t decide. They get sucked into cults that way.”
“For the kids” I repeated as I typed
“And any site by any governmental agency. That is just plain propaganda. This government, that government. Every single one of them is bad. All those sites. Who says one country is better than another, heck why is one state better than the next state? Just makes me sick. ‘Freedom of Information’ that’s a laugh. Nothing is free. Ya got to pay for everything.”
He wasn’t finished.
“And those social sites, where everyone tries to meet everyone in the entire universe. Those are just waste of time. Chat rooms, instant messages. Kids need to be studying, not “connecting.” I say, remove the temptation, remove the problem. Just people looking to get laid.”
“Kids spend too much time playing games. Take down those game sites. These kids are turning into blobs of jelly because they just sit in front of a screen shooting aliens. We are turning into a country of marshmallows.”
“Sites with stupid names that I can’t pronounce. Kids can’t remember them. Bubu, ubu Goo-Goo. Heck they need to be limited just because they have silly names. Take them down too. And while you are at it, limit the charity sites. Always begging for money.”
He was on a roll and he wasn’t stopping.
“And email, don’t even get me started with email. Emails from people you don’t know, from companies you never heard of offering stuff that you don’t need. I say get rid of email too. It’s a complete waste of time. We have a post office. Why do we need to email anyone?
“And now I hear that they want you to do something called “video conferencing” over the Internet. You don’t even have to meet face to face anymore. What kind of silliness is that? Let’s all live like moles and just watch each other on the screen. No thank you. Kids need to meet each other. There is no need to meet kids in other parts of the world when they don’t even know the kids down the block. No thank you. Keep your cameras off of me.” He looked at my camcorder. “Current company excepted.”
I looked at the old guy and took a breath. He had just about eliminated the entire Internet from use by kids. I didn’t think I would win any kind of debate with him, so I just told him about Miguel.
“You know,” I said “I have a friend named Miguel Guhlin who has written and presented a lot about technology and kids. He has presented all over the world actually, and is recognized as a leader in educational technology. He has a presentation that he does called “Our Children Walk Alone.” In that presentation, he says that it really is hard for kids these days because the adults don’t help the kids too much in determining what is good and what is bad on the internet and just try to shield everything from them or don’t shield anything. By trying to protect, they actually are doing a disservice to the kids, because when the kids get out into the real world, they are going to have to face all of these dangers anyway. So, the students go out into techno-land all by themselves, without the village of guides that should be helping to see the dangerous from the safe.”
The old man looked at me and sighed. He had known me long enough to know that I had some more to say.
“I don’t think Miguel is saying just unblock everything and let the inmates run the asylum. What I do think he means is that it takes an effort of schools, community, and parents to become part of the education of our children when it comes to Internet safety. Parents need to set rules. Schools need to educate the kids about dangers; communities need to have standards that are adhered to everywhere. Only when everyone is working together as a team with our kids will they really learn the value of the Internet, and what a powerful learning tool it is. Parent need to work with teachers to find out where the teachers ask them to go on the Internet for research, they need to ask questions about things they don’t understand, and they need to be aware that community computers like in public libraries may have different filtering systems than the school’s. We don’t want our kids walking alone, we need to be walking right there with them, side by side.
“Blocking sites is silly because there simply are too many. It would be like trying to fly a kite in a west-Texas dust storm. It works for a little while, but eventually, the dust storm wins. Children need to be aware of dangers, just as we teach them to cross the street or drive a car. We can’t let them walk alone on the Internet.”
I sat back and looked at the old man. He looked at me. A smile came across his face as he thought of the perfect solution to the original question.
“Or,” he said with a smile “maybe we could just limit who could use computers…That would solve your problem right there. No kids allowed! Now that is a solution.”
I closed my laptop. I stopped the camera.
“See ya next week old timer.”