A few weeks ago an article appeared within my Facebook timeline from an online newspaper I follow. It reported on a young man in Colorado, USA , who was wanted on a drugs charge. He had been chased by the police at high speed and had managed to crash into dozens of other vehicles. He also evaded the police by car-jacking, no less than three other vehicles, one of which was a mother, who was stopped and dragged out of her car whilst the man sped away with her terrified four year old son in the back seat (he was later retrieved frightened and distraught but unharmed when the felon abandoned that car for another).
As I looked down the many, many comments attached to the posting, I was shocked to read postings such as:
“Ha, its just like GTA…” or,
“He’s been playing too much Grand Theft Auto lol!”
What struck me was the casual nature in which people acknowledged an incident that must have been unbelievably traumatic for the mother of the four year-old and the other victims for that matter, even to the point of thinking that it was something to have a bit of a giggle about.
As I read further comments of a similar vein, I started to reflect on whether our now daily engagement with technology is impacting our capacity to differentiate between the real and virtual worlds and whether it is encouraging a worrying trend, with some people, towards insensitive voyeurism; an acceptance that everything on the web is provided for entertainment and an inability to sympathise with a victim.
I then began to consider what impact this phenomena maybe having on young people and this made me think about some experiences I have had in my role as a supply teacher in both primary and secondary schools. Recently, I have noticed how the words ‘rape’ and ‘porn’ appear to have crept into the everyday conversations of young people, even to the point of modifying them with a view to include them in youth culture, as in the word ‘frape’.
Surely, the ‘normalisation’ of these words into our youth vocabulary is not healthy and is contrary to the nurturing environments that adults should be ensuring exist within school and at home. So, how does this happen?
This blurring of the boundaries between reality and cyberspace can manifest itself in much more sinister and darker ways too. A year or so back, I was teaching a Y11 resistant materials class who had a double lesson that spanned over dinner time. A couple of the boys returned to school after spending their dinner at a house of one of the group. As they entered the workshop they were laughing and I overheard one them saying “… it was just like on ‘Fallout’ ”. Thinking that they had been playing video games I asked them about it; however, I was shocked to discover that what they had been watching was a real beheading that had been posted on the internet by a terrorist group. What was equally distressing was how they had viewed this horrific scene, coldly disconnecting the fact that this was a real person from the voyeuristic and trivial ‘entertainment’ the video provided for them. They even likened the event to computer games that they had played to the point of interpreting and reconciling the video as just another scene from a computer game.
As a consequence of the ubiquitous nature of the worldwide web and the type of material that can be accessed, do you think that the real worlds of young people are being dangerously impacted by their cyber worlds? Do you believe that the way in which content is presented such that the difference between the real and the fictional is distinctly vague and blurred, encourages young people to becoming desensitised and numb to real events and situations that, prior to the technological age, would have been genuinely seen as horrific, upsetting or gruesome?
Or do you believe that the impact of the web is no different to the influence on youth culture of radio and television in the post-war 20th century and it is inevitable that media will affect the language and behaviour of young people?