Digital invasion and safety

Author: Pushpa Gopal

I love technology. Have always been in awe of its capabilities. 25 years back, when I took on as instructional leader for Informatics Computer Systems, I felt blessed and empowered to initiate an ICT curriculum in schools. We started with LOGO, BASIC and COBOL and got the kids excited with the capabilities of a machine. I was as excited as the kids.

25 years and how much we have tread.

Technology and our lives are interwoven today. It has invaded our lives. Most of our communications are emails, texts, tweets, posts, and forwards. We don’t leave our mobile phones even while sleeping. What is this doing to our relationships, our society and our thought processes? We are slowly realising that this digital invasion might cost us some sleepless nights even as we are slowly becoming aware of the dangers lurking around the corners of this massive digital empire. Privacy issues, data security, extortion, sextortion, hacking, cyber dares are some of the immediate dangers.

Today, as I sit here in the airport observing people and kids around me, I am left with a sense of apprehension and worry. Has technology invaded our lives? Have we lost the real life connect?

Some ways we could manage this invasion is by

-       rationing tech time with children.

-       allotting an hour every day for “no-phone” time.

-       taking out time for tech detox.

The waiting rooms, airport lounges, railway stations and auditoriums are my favourite places where I get to sit quietly and observe people around me.

As I wait at the airport, I notice this young child mesmerised by the iPad in front of him. His parents seem lost in their own phones. This is a common sight. Isn’t it? What is it, in this gadget that can retain the attention of this young child and the adult alike for hours on end?

I continue observing the child. As he clicks on one video, a list appears on the right panel suggesting more. Innocently, the child clicks on the next and the next. Oblivious to the fact of the dangers lurking in that small screen. The parents are oblivious too, as they seem peaceful. I can almost read their thoughts – My child is engaged. My child is busy. My child is safe. He is right in front of my eyes.

The repercussions and the impact on this young mind could be serious. What if he lands on a wrong page? What if he is drawn towards inappropriate content?

Setting parental controls could be one way of managing this. Developing some monitoring mechanisms to keep an eye on children’s browsing behaviours could also help. Most important having a conversation with children about ‘screen-time’ and issues around randomly accessing information is of prime importance. It is about awareness, staying alert and taking a timely action.

I turn away and am caught by a bunch of teenagers lost in their phones. They don’t seem to want to interact with each other. They prefer their screens. I can see them laugh, smirk and grimace all at themselves or at least it seems so. Suddenly one boy positions his camera, readies himself and pounces on his friend. The friend drops down. This boy holds him down, looks at his camera and voices some words. And dramatically clicks a button and announces ‘I dare it. I win the challenge. What’s next?’ A fist fight ensues as the boys recover from the shock. I am not so much bothered about this physical fight. My thoughts are on the boy’s act.

Isn’t this a dare? Someone out there is waiting for this video and preparing the next level of challenge for this boy. And I cannot but relive the blue whale challenge and the many innocent young lives it snuffed out. Some are reported. Some are not.

Aren’t these kids in danger?

It is important to bring awareness in children about the latest cybercrimes and problematic cyber trends. A good practice to have discussion with them to understand what their digital interests and activities are can be useful. Professional counselling also helps to detox and provide alternative avenues to keep them engaged and fulfilled.

Technology has opened huge possibilities, no doubt.  The machine can do all that we have been doing in the past. Earlier, we believed that machines are incapable of one human capability – thinking. But Artificial Intelligence has proved beyond any doubt that it is capable of everything that comes out of human thinking. Predictive analysis and Internet of Things have left little for the common people. Are we ready for the pace at which this technology ‘progress’ is taking place?

The digital natives will learn fast. They are growing with the gadgets. Their foundational milestones are marked in the net space. They will learn to cope and survive.

But what about people who are caught in the transition generation?

This digital invasion has impacted our lives from all sides. We are leaving our digital footprint all around us. Everyday, whether we want to or not, most of us contribute to a growing portrait of who we are online- a portrait that is probably more public than most of us assume. It is essentially for this reason that we become aware of what kind of trail are we leaving and what are the possible effects of this on our lives.

Have we not become vulnerable to the unknown threats lurking in the corridors of the digital empire? How do we gather ourselves, sit up and face this challenge?

Technology is not going to slow down any time soon. In fact, it is galloping ahead much faster than anyone can expect. How do we protect ourselves and our family from these threats?

Digital citizenship is the key. Becoming aware of and teaching good digital citizenship skills to children helps them connect their everyday actions with their choices in a digital society. It’s important to understand unethical behavior and its impact for all of us.

Staying smart and alert is a skill. Critical thinking and decision making is also important in the digital world, as decisions are made at every point. Its about making the right choices- clicking the right button, keying the right words and opting to read the right text and choosing to ignore/delete the unwanted text.

Some general tips to be safe are:

  • start with creating complex passwords than mindlessly use our DOB.
  • develop and boost network safety and invest on safety software.
  • always use a firewall to block unauthorised access. Consciously stay away from careless clicking and entering unknown sites and web spaces. These can be as dark as an unsafe alley.
  • share only validated information.
  • be well informed and keep ourselves updated on the latest scams. Prevention is always better than cure.

With great power comes great responsibility.

FB - 10 June onwards




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