Three Points

A simple traipse though history, starting with the earliest human use of tools, seems to reveal that communications is the main beneficiary of technology. I know there are a few holes here, but please bear with me…

In one of the oldest testaments to humankind’s technological development, early humans drew pictures on cave walls. Assume, for a moment, that one purpose of cave drawings was the intent to enhance communication — seems reasonable, doesn’t it? For the sake of argument, I’ll accept it for now.

You can trace just about every single technological advancement in history and its effects throughout the history of communication. Even warfare is a form of communication, when you really think about it (it’s really more like persuasion, but persuasion in itself is a form of communication, isn’t it?):

Shoot at your enemy. “Can you hear me now?” Hmmm… Nope. Shoot a bigger gun at your enemy. Hmmm… Still no. Lob a bomb at him. Hmmm… Obviously, what we have here is a failure to communicate. Lob a bigger bomb at him. BOOM! “Can you hear me now? Good!”

So, we start the history of communication with stone-age cave images, watch the development of a consistent, oral language (“Oog make fire”), waltz through hieroglyphics, and into the development of written languages. Step forward to the Middle Ages and we see monks toiling their entire lives to make a single, perfect copy of one book — the Bible. At this point in time, humanity had a literacy rate of about 1%; the learned were mostly priests, monks and some royalty.

In the 1450’s, Gutenberg invented the printing press, a machine that enabled one man to create thousands of copies of the Bible during that same man’s lifetime. In the ensuing years, the literacy rate soared. People were now able to exchange ideas more easily. In fact, since Gutenberg’s invention, humanity’s development of technology has grown at a predictable — if not exponential — rate.

Just 300 years after Gutenberg’s landmark, we see literacy rates approaching 50%, books and pamphlets begin to circulate new ideas, we see the beginnings of the Press in America, and we see the rise of one of the most fundamental (American) ideals: democracy combined with free enterprise — fueled by free speech.

In the intervening years to mid-last century, we see literacy rates approach 100% in some countries (currently 65.11% overall world-wide), the rise of large daily newspapers, as well as the invention of the telegraph, the telephone, the railroad, radio and television. Throughout the last 130 years, advancing technology has enabled greater and greater communication, bringing with it greater understanding of others, a better living standard for almost everyone, and a somewhat more peaceful world (well… perhaps, or perhaps not).

Granted, I’m being way over-simplistic here, but you should be getting my point by now: advancing communication between humans is a primary key to improving life on this planet. This is why we set up negotiating tables for warring parties: let’s talk out our differences and see if we can’t get things done.

Now we have the Internet. Gutenberg must be either rolling in his grave like a lathe — or grinning madly — by now, since writing and publishing cost a minute decimal equivalent to what it cost 555 years ago, and a lot of it can be accomplished with a device smaller than his first publication. Now, get this: it can be done in the blink of an eye — for the world!

I think, for the sake of argument, that I have safely made Point One.

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About two years ago (or so), I linked onto a weblog (I think I was reading Salon.com, possibly, but I’m not sure) by a young man in his early teens. He lived in Texas, his parents were difficult (as I recall), and he was gay (not that there is anything wrong with that). His blog was about what it was like growing up gay in the middle of Texas — a southern, red-necked, Bible-Belt community. I have since lost the URL.

He was incredibly articulate. He wrote eloquently about his social experiences and how he felt about them; it was a blog about one kid’s pluckiness and true grit, far beyond what most people address in a lifetime.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have given it much thought, but his blog intrigued me: he had compelling things to say, of which I could relate to a good bit. I understandably couldn’t relate to some other things because of the difference in our orientations, but what struck me was his openness and honesty — then I read a few of the comments.

Another teen, in a similar situation about 2,000 miles away, had found this young man’s blog and began to read it daily. He commented, finally, after reading the blog for almost two months. He said that he had been planning suicide for some time before he found the blog, feeling totally alone and isolated — as if he were a freak. Reading the blogger’s experiences motivated the young man to find a support group, seek medical and psychological attention for depression, and work on the issues of his life.

His comment struck me: “You saved my life.”

The blogging teen’s web site had the following characteristics: his own URL, his own server space, and a proxied domain listing. It is possible that he used a pseudonym as well; I cannot be sure. The idea here is that a reader would not be able to pinpoint the writer’s location — most of the information that would allow this was deliberately vague, obviously to protect the blogger.

One other quality of this particular youth’s blog: the intent was not to “hook up” with others — it was intended to illustrate his life so that others like him would not feel alone. I’m sure he was harrassed and propositioned. I’m sure that predators tried to get to him, as he occasionally wrote about poseurs in his email, comments and instant messaging program.

Up to the point where I stopped reading his blog, he had denied all offers. Sharp kid. Point Two.

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When I was in high school, about age 16, a close friend of mine took a job cleaning out a local hair salon after hours. Actually, his mother arranged it for him. The money was good, off the books, and it helped him buy gasoline and cigarettes. Once, the owner (a man well over 40 — this was in Rocky River in the 1970’s, mind you!) propositioned him for oral sex. My friend politely declined, and that was that.

About the same time (I remember because it came up in the same conversation), I was delivering pizzas early weekend evenings. It was good money at the time. One night, I delivered a pizza to an apartment (again in Rocky River) occupied by two men in their 50’s. One answered the door wearing nothing but a white towel that clearly revealed the man’s prior activities with his partner. As I stood in the doorway to the apartment, waiting for the pizza money, I could clearly see into the bedroom, where his partner was lying naked on the bed, visibly “keeping things alive,” as it were.

They asked me to “join” them; I declined, took the money for the pizza, and returned to work.

Not every teen has this kind of common sense, I’ll grant, but most do — and will tell you so if you ask them. Point Three.

~~~~~

I have not looked at xanga.com. I have no need. Tell me that it is a transparent blogger site and I believe you. Tell me that it is a danger to kids that want to blog there and I’ll believe you.

I have no problem with this.

I have no problem with teens blogging — in fact, I’d encourage them to do so; as with the case with the teen in Texas: if it saves at least one teen life from suicide or drugs and alcohol, then it is worth it. Further, with practice anyone can write well; writing, however, is something that few people choose to do because writing well is difficult.

We have a dearth of good writers, and fewer today than in years past; we need more good writers with good ideas today than we ever needed in our history, if you ask me, so to prevent a teen from blogging for shear fear of the dangers involved — without concern for possible countermeasures — is, in my mind, inappropriate, if not detrimental to both the child and society.

Further, most teens I have known, throughout my life, had the common sense and good judgment to not be taken in by a stranger — not ALL of them, mind you — but most of them did. Parenting, guidance and oversight is still a requirement if your child is to use the Internet — I never said that this wasn’t so.

My point for Tim White at WKYC-TV was that the report about xanga.com blurred the lines about blogging in general and kids. Tim tells me that it was about transparent blog sites like xanga.com, but the story, after referring to this one site, went on to talk about blogging sites in general — not limiting it to “sites like xanga.com” — and the dangers such sites provide to our kids. The unspoken implication was obvious; since I was not the only person to respond to this, I know I was not barking up the wrong tree.

Further, the story didn’t offer alternatives beyond “pen and paper” — the equivalent to offering me an abacus to replace my calculator. For these reasons I called the report “grossly inaccurate, misleading, and potentially harmful.” It’s not really Tim White’s fault: he merely introduced the story; I doubt, however, that he had any part in the story’s editing.

So, to Tim White, I apologize for my flame; my intent, however, still stands.

Further, I erred when I wrote the previous post; I allowed my anger to deter me from presenting a possible solution to the issue of our kids blogging on these so-called “transparent blogging sites” like xanga.com. My humble apologies also extend to you, Constant Reader.

So here’s my suggestion: given the aforementioned Three Points, in order to protect our children from predators and still give them the opportunity to exercise their writing skills and free speech, perhaps we in Greater Cleveland should develop a weblogging host service strictly for teens. The site administrator could check with the local schools (and the child’s parents) to ensure that any child that wanted to start a local blog be under 18 and be a student in good standing in a local school.

It would be a sort of a co-op program for aspiring writers and bloggers. No bad language, no “hooking up” as the main intent for the blog, and not enough information included that would allow a predator access to our most precious resource — our children.

What say ye?

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