The Internet and Youth
“InRealLife” (yes, all one word) takes us on a journey from the bedrooms of British teenagers to the world of Silicon Valley, to find out what exactly the Internet is doing to our children. Filmmaker Beeban Kidron suggests that rather than the promise of free and open connectivity, young people are becoming increasingly trapped in a commercial world. What seems tempting and exciting can actually alienating and addictive. “InRealLife” asks if we can afford to stand by while children, trapped in their 24/7 connectivity, are being outsourced to the net?
The film examines how children are adapting to the technological world we live in. This is an eye-opening and sometimes shocking documentary that examines the constantly developing relationship between technology and psychology. It features some very important people that include Julian Assange, Nicolas Negroponte, Jimmy Wales, Luis Von Ahn, Sherry Turkle, Nicholas Carr and Maggie Jackson.
We have learned that western civilizations are vastly ignorant over the repercussions of their online activities. What’s more, the influence the web has on its into its present users doesn’t begin to show how this will affect years to come. Youth today has become web-dependent and we see this by following disturbing accounts from internet-addicted teens.
We are given an ambiguous collection of horror stories that showcase the frailty of the human condition in the hands of corporate computer companies. The director uses a sustained journalistic approach that collates an unabridged cache of industry professionals, commentators and users. Teenage case studies to explore their online deviations. Opening with 15-year-old Ryan, the director inquires what the boy enjoys most about the web. Unsurprisingly, Ryan tells us about his fixation with online pornography. We see that this is a very common reply but what we hear from Ryan is much deeper than boyish innocence. With the aid of Kidron’s reassuring interview style, Ryan realizes his secularization from experiencing real-life emotions – love, intimacy – fuelled by his sexual voyeurism. There are other stories like Ryan’s that are cleverly interspersed with the appropriate intellectual scaremongering one would expect from a topic as universal as Internet addiction. Julian Assange preaches of libertarian democracy from his Ecuadoran embassy impound, while other speakers such as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Sherry Turkle highlight the damaging nature of the digital age upon our youth.
“InRealLife” whittles down to highlighting macro issues on a desperately micro scale. Every tale told is enough to merit its own feature length analysis. Alternatively, we see each point of concern —the reality of cyber-bullying, addictive insecurities, corporate monopolization, etc. This is very much like a science-fiction horror story except that this is not fiction. It is cinematic storytelling and is in fact, a documentary feature that reels you into a genuinely creepy-crawly world. It presents us with a reality in which children are stripped of humanity and it doesn’t get scarier than this.
We witness how kids filter their contact and communication with others via an insidious online assault upon their individuality (“or, as the best dystopian science fiction will always have us believe, their very souls”).
The movie is compelling and terrifying and diverting as it is, we face something here head-on. Though a 90-minute feature film can only glance upon the surface of such a huge subject, director Kidron does so with such mesmerizing commitment the picture moves us forward and keeps our eyes glued to the screen.
Several of the stories are downright horrific and as such, they are presented with clear, simple compositions and just the right off-camera questions and conversation to let the kids do what they need to do and say. The same goes for the interviews with all the various experts in the fields of psychology, engineering, marketing and, of course, the various cyber worlds of texting, gaming, social networking, net surfing and face-to-face communications as explained and opined upon by said experts.
There is a girl’s tale than when she relates how, upon finally acquiring a cell phone it’s snatched from her by a teenage boy who leads her back to a flat where she is forced to endure a gang-bang to get her phone back. But there is also the opposite— a gay teen that engages in a long-distance online relationship with another lad. Neither of the boys had met each other, yet when Kidron follows one of the boys on his long journey to finally meet his online lover and we see genuine warmth, endearment and respect that offer a sense of hope to gray world of cyber communication.
We meet a variety of kids: for example, two young boys so addicted to internet porn that they happily and somewhat innocently expect women to look like porn stars and to perform sex acts identical to those they watch on their computer monitors. They express that anything less in real life would be a horrible disappointment. Then there’s a clearly brilliant young man who has messed up his otherwise promising academic standing at Oxford with his online addictions and now spends virtually every waking hour in front of a computer – social networking or gaming. When asked what he’d do if these options were not available, he admits, somewhat disappointedly, that he’d “probably” have to “read a book”.
The tales continue, but are alternated with y a series of interviews with the experts who provide information and analysis that many of us probably know and/or ignore. What is really frightening is just how many parents have no idea of what their kids are up to and this is certainly reflected in a nasty case of cyber bullying Kidron shows us, one that escalates into every parent’s worst nightmare.
The film hammers home a series of basic facts – most of which seem perfectly reasonable under the circumstances. Websites are designed to track us and the threat to privacy has never been direr. The sites are there to collect date and with all this information comes power.