This blog is the preface to Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us, to be published in June, 2103
©Homeland Press, 2013
As a troubadour and tech enthusiast, as an ecology advocate and children's champion, I'm moved to comment on what I sense is an opportunity and crisis of epochal proportions: a chance to optimize the social and environmental benefits of a digitally connected global village by acting quickly to subdue the perils of that technology's shadow.
The worldwide web of computer connection has a light side and a dark side.
The "Lightweb" is known to all who use the Internet as a daily part of life. We easily connect to anyone around the world, not just via email, but through a variety of online platforms and texting applications even on the smallest personal computing devices; we have access to a global storehouse of information; powerful search engines find documents, arguments and historical precedents, and almost any online question finds answers; we connect by audio and video with anyone, for free; we can build an online music and entertainment library without leaving home; we have palm-sized devices with dazzling capabilities for learning, recording, sharing and connecting.
The "Darkweb" is there too. Imposters, predators and porn sites lurk in the shadows on the Information Superhighway and all too easily lure unsuspecting users; identity theft is an issue, as is the loss of privacy due to the "data mining" practices of social media companies; online platforms allow stalkers to find the addresses and phone numbers of unwary users who are bullied, shamed and harassed mercilessly; the hundreds of millions of young users who were never intended to be on social media (SM) are most vulnerable to security breaches, sometimes with lethal consequences.
Net evangelists cheer the virtual world with little reservation. Yet while there's scant evidence that daily online engagement contributes to, say, character development in our young, we do have evidence of Net dependence and SM addiction, with negative impacts on personal wellbeing and productivity.
The SM crisis is hard to miss: If kids (the unintended users for whom the Net was not designed) aren't safe on social media, if they can't effectively avoid the worst of the Darkweb, we've got a social catastrophe -- a growing challenge to physical and mental health. The opportunity, simply put, is this: If social media is reformed with systemic safety features, if parents and teachers put sensible limits on screen time and age restrictions on Net use, we just might make the best of a very tough situation: benefit from the Lightweb by minimizing its shadow.
Is this possible? Can we regulate and inspire a digital code of conduct that rewards our highest inclinations and enables connecting for the greatest good?
If you make it past the next four paragraphs, we might well have a conversation. I'd like that very much.
Imagine a highway with no speed limits and no guard rails, where vehicles have no seatbelts and faulty brakes, and drivers (many of them underage) are constantly distracted -- that's the "Information Superhighway." Would you rush to give your kids a sports car to drive on that highway -- a smartphone? Hardly. You would at least wait until they were old enough to have a driver's licence.
Imagine parenting challenges with a quarter to a third of families led by a single parent; where even two-parent families have a hard time making ends meet; where kids now socialize virtually, texting their peers constantly -- welcome to parenting in the 21st century. Harder than ever.
Imagine a pop culture that exploits the young by targeting them for logo identification from birth, relentlessly marketing and advertising to them; a culture that sexualizes young girls, that glorifies violence and uses sex to sell anything--that's the hypersexualized (what some call "pornified") pop culture in which our kids grow up.
Imagine a planet with a global economy on shaky ground, life support systems in peril, species going extinct at record rates and runaway climate change threatening life as we know it. That's the world we're living in -- a polluted one in which babies worldwide are born with a body burden of toxic chemicals that are known health hazards.
The global village -- McLuhan's prescient term -- is in a state of emergency: on the brink of breakdown or, perhaps, breakthrough. If I could wave a Harry Potter wand, I'd summon a grand new ethic to wake us from the Muggle doldrums to our higher sensibilities. I'd conjure a new economic model that might reverse the "money-above-all-else" bottom-line fixation that's killing planetary life supports and poisoning our world. I'd wish for a startling new discovery that could restore the tainted present and reverse the rush into depleted and frightening futures.
Some think digital technology is that magic wand. I believe that in its present form it adds to our problems as much as helps us.
This book provides three good reasons to reform social media and, along the way, rethink our relationship with the Information Superhighway and its "shiny tech" devices. Those reasons are Safety, Intelligence, Sustainability.
Part 1 of this book, "Safety," looks at the vulnerability of SM users, especially the young. Part 2, "Intelligence," deals with the pros and cons of "digitally enhanced" living. Part 3, "Sustainability," sheds light on the ecology of info tech, something we don't hear much about. The global context? A world with much economic instability and an ominous climate threat.
What the daunting big picture says to me is that we need something other than tech miracles in a ramped-up digital culture. I'm as happy to see tech innovation as the next person, so long as such innovation is socially sound and environmentally benign. As many have said, what humanity needs is a new ecological consciousness -- to transcend the myopic shortcomings of our mechanistic past. To me, what the world needs most is to embrace the global ethic we call sustainability, well-known in some circles but hardly a household word in our corporate-dominated societies.
Reforming social media without delay is critical. Without reform we doom ourselves to distraction, tweeting on the new Titanic. The right reforms now can give us the best chance of harnessing our Net inclinations to create a culture of true connection: a culture of respect for Earth and all her children. Without that, I fear for our future.
The conversation we need to have is time sensitive. Let's talk.
Some platforms, like FourSquare, were designed to show the world our locations. Others, like photo-sharing app Instagram, make it too easy for us to inadvertently give ourselves away. In fact, we're so accustomed to snapping "artsy" pics of puppies and salads that it's possible we're unintentionally sharing our whereabouts, particularly if the photos aren't categorized as "private." So if you call out of work sick, make sure you don't accidentally post a picture of yourself relaxing at the local beach. Or, if you're feeling paranoid and want to minimize unwanted attention, go to your Instagram "Options" page and select the "Photos Are Private" button.
For many years, we were able to read Facebook messages at our leisure -- and then promptly ignore them. But the social network rolled out a new feature that lets users see when a recipient has read a chat or message they've sent. So if you want to avoid the awkward realization you've ignored someone, type a message back, don't open the message to begin with, or use this Chat Undected extension to regain your excuse for not responding.
OkCupid and LinkedIn are used for notably different purposes, but these social networking sites share a potentially embarrassing feature. Both platforms show who has viewed your profile. When you're checking out someone else's profile they can see you, too, which makes cyberstalking a not-so-anonymous act. In order to privately dig into another person's information, both websites offer premium memberships that'll cost you a few extra bucks a month but will let you check out as many profiles as you want on the sly. Creepy? Nah...
On a given day, we might read a few news articles online, "Like" a slew of photos on Instagram or listen to a couple of tunes via Spotify. Thanks to Facebook's Timeline apps, all these activities can be posted to your Facebook profile without the use of a manual "share" button. That's right, all your co-workers know that you've been reading stories about celebrity sideboob sightings. Every app has different preferences, so be sure to read the details of what you're allowing Facebook to publish.
Sometimes we want people to know where we are. And sometimes we forget to turn off Twitter's geo-location feature, which publishes the location where we're tweeting. Too many times we've left a digital footprint mapping out our route to work, along with our favorite coffee shops and our favorite after-work watering holes. Be wary of oversharing. A simple Google search for your name will probably call up your Twitter handle. If you want to limit who can see your profile, go to Twitter's "Settings" page and check the "Protect my Tweets" box, or turn the location feature off (seen in the image to the left).
Occasionally, companies will offer customers rewards for "Liking" their brand on Facebook. You might be a sucker for incentives, but don't forget that once you "Like" an organization's Page, you'll receive corporate updates that have the potential to litter your News Feed. Your "Likes" might also show up in your friends' News Feeds. So "Like" accordingly!
When was the last time you checked your "Other" Messages on Facebook? This hidden folder displayed in the top left corner of the Messages screen holds posts from people you're not connected with on Facebook. But who remembers to look there? Not us. The same rings true for Direct Messages on Twitter, or InMail on LinkedIn. While these modes of communication can be awesome resources, sometimes we forget they exist.
For millions of fans, Raffi's music was the soundtrack of their childhood. These "beluga grads" now share his songs with their own kids. Raffi has been described by the Washington Post and the Toronto Star as the most popular children's entertainer in the western world, and Canada's all time children's champion. Raffi is a tech enthusiast, entrepreneur, and ecology advocate. He holds three honorary degrees, is the recipient of numerous awards, and is a Member of the Order of Canada and the Club of Budapest.
Follow Raffi Cavoukian on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Raffi_RC