Law in the Internet Society
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What to do with the Internet Babies?

-- By SethLindner - 23 Dec 2009

Where we are and how we got here

It seems evident to me now that one of the most powerful threats to our autonomy in the internet society is our own refusal to investigate the forces that influence our lives. This is a more fundamental weakness than cognitive dissonance, or the uncomfortable feeling created when we try to simultaneously grasp conflicting ideas (cf. "I believe in using my law degree to benefit society" and "I need to make a lot of money to pay off my law school debt, so I'd better take the BigLaw job"). It is even a bigger problem than the likely by-product of cognitive dissonance, which is rationalization ("Ah, yes, but if I take the BigLaw job, I'll have plenty of money, so I'll use that to benefit society"). What I'm speaking of is more purposeful. It is an active avoidance of knowledge even before conflicting ideas are created. Increasingly, we simply do not look beyond the information in front of us. We don't look behind the curtain -- not because we are afraid of what we might find, but because we feel there are better ways to spend (or waste) our time.

But before you dismiss me as a cynic, allow me to explain how I think we got here. First of all, I don't think this is about laziness. We don't ignore the forces that influence us because we just don't feel like opening opening our minds to new possibilities. We ignore those forces because the fast pace of our modern world is constantly showing us new things that don't require us to really consider the forces that drive them. So, in the end, we know that our attention is a limited resource. We only have so much of it, so we devote it to those things that we believe will give us the most pleasure.

There is a chance that part of what is happening now is just a temporary reaction to a world that is growing faster than our attention can keep up with it. In other words, this might all just be the growing pains of a paper and pencil society as it learns to send it first, then fifth, then thousandth email. But what I've really been thinking about is not how those of who grew up before the age of the internet are going to fair, but rather what will become of the generation that is born into the internet society.

Is the Next Generation on the Same Path?

I'm sure we've all heard stories of parents being obsessed with their children, but I came across an article recently that made me think about parental obsessions in a new way. There are now websites available that allow parents to keep track of virtually every event in their baby's life. Every time/place they go to sleep or wake up, every time they need a diaper change (1, 2, or both), every time they eat. The idea, it seems, is that parents who can see the trends in their baby's behaviors will be better able to identify problems and optimize their habits.

It sounds like data mining to me. Useful, to be sure, but also a little scary. Reading about this made me think about what kind of message this sends to child whose first years of life are so meticulously recorded. What does it tell them about their privacy when they learn that every significant and insignificant event in their early lives is stored forever on the internet - just a mouse click and a password away?

Without purposeful intervention, I can see this new generation going in one of two ways. First, they might just get used invasions of privacy and accept that their is nothing they can ever do about it. After all, data mining has been a part of their realities literally since birth. Maybe they just won't know any better. The second possibility is that the generation who grows up with this technology will learn quickly to question it simply because they won't be so dumbfounded by its "newness". Information overload won't ever be a part of their vocabulary.

Is There Anything We Can Do to Help?

As the near-term possibility of becoming a parent begins to creep into my own consciousness, I question whether there is anything that parents can do to help prepare their children for the internet society. One might be tempted to simply insulate them, but this seems like it only prolongs the inevitable. One might also be tempted to inundate them with information. Get them used to it early. Sign up for the baby-tracking website right away. This might work, but it is incomplete. What parents really need to do to prepare their children for the internet society is really a very old-fashioned tool. Encourage them to ask questions. If we are doing this right, the questions will be ones we've never heard of before, and to which we don't know (or don't want to know) the answers. But this is the only way to guarantee that their minds remain open and active - neither sheltered from the reality of a digital age, nor mesmerized by its grandeur.



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r2 - 24 Dec 2009 - 00:30:39 - SethLindner
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