I was reminded of this as I weaved through all the visitors to Covent Garden on Friday on my way to a preview screening of InRealLife - a new documentary by Beeban Kidron. People's fascination in the piazza (which no Londoner goes to - naturally) reminded how interested people were when I did a job where I visited prisons. There is a morbid fascination with this forbidden and closed world that isn't all that interesting to those inside it at all, not least as it's where they live and work and do their stuff. Just like those Manhattanites going about their day and me wandering through the sights of London that I have seen all my life and barely register any more.
While I realise that this blog exists on the internet and I use email and social media and all of those things, they haven't always been part of my life. Kids now have all these resources to hand from the moment they are alive. We are in an age where children do not play outside, they don't walk to school, they're discouraged from befriending anyone we don't know or approve of first. Of course they live on the internet - it is their window to the world and it is in their hands. One of the stats that comes up first in this documentary is that teenagers spend almost as much time online with friends as they do in person with them. Not that the perspective of the movie is that the internet is bad, more that we have no idea what young people use it for.
Beeban Kidron asks teens what they do online and they are shockingly honest about it. She has an uncanny ability to make gritty films that engage on a human level. I was captivated all those years ago when I watched, 'Hookers, Hustlers, Pimps and their Johns' and mistakenly thought she must be a New Yorker. In this film she is heard - and occasionally seen - talking to teens whose bravery in talking so openly about their online lives is breathtaking.
Ryan names all the types of porn sites he looks at and we see the 15 year old and his friends on a night out chatting up real girls and later admitting to camera that he hopes that a real girl will do what he's watched online and if she does he judges her for it. I was actually frightened by this young man and his brazen sexual hypocrisy - I cannot imagine how a young woman of his own age would feel if she was in his sights as a potential partner.
As vignettes of teen life this film gives a stark view of how much time and energy is invested in an online existence and an almost complete lack of privacy. There is no value placed on protecting their own information and the company executives we see interviewed have no qualms at all about harvesting this information to target young people. The man from EA sports left me open-mouthed and speechless. The eerie background music and images of vast warehouses where all our private information is stored offer little solace for adults either. It's not meant to be an easy watch.
I have a massive fear and sense of unease about what it will mean for my boy who already knows how to work an iphone and a tablet computer and he's not even 3 yet. Of course the world will have moved on even more by the time he is a teenager and I won't have a clue what he is into. For now it is every parent's duty to watch this film. It might scare you stupid, but at least you won't be ignorant of what life is like for teens right now.