Control over the way kids use computers is a real political football, part of the wide-ranging debates over child pornography, bullying, sexual predation, privacy, piracy, and cheating.
And if those stakes weren't high enough, consider this:
The norms of technology use that today's kids grow up with will play a key role in tomorrow's workplace, national competitiveness, and political discourse.
Hoo-boy -- poor kids!
The idea that kids can run technological circles around their elders is hardly new. In 1878, the newly launched Bell System was crashed by its operators, young messenger boys who'd been redeployed to run the nascent phone system instead treated the nation's fragile communications infrastructure as the raw material for a series of pranks and ill-conceived experiments.
Today, kids are still way ahead of the grownups who supposedly control their school and home networks. In my informal interviews, I've discovered again and again that kids are a bottomless well of tricks for evading network filters and controls, and that they propagate their tricks like crazy, trading them like bubble-gum cards and amassing social capital by helping their peers gain access to the whole wide Web, rather than the narrow slice that's visible through the crack in the firewall.
I have to admit, this warms my heart. After all, do we want to raise a generation of kids who have the tech savvy of an Iranian dissident, or the ham-fisted incompetence of the government those dissidents are running circles around?
But I'm also a parent, and I know that it won't be long before my daughter is using her network access to get at stuff that's so vile, my eyes water just thinking about it. What's more, she's going to be exposed to a vast panoply of privacy dangers, from the marketing creeps who'll track her around the Web to the spyware jerks who'll try to infect her machine to the crazed spooks at agencies like the NSA who are literally out to wiretap the entire world.
Add to that the possibility that the disclosures she makes on the network are likely to follow her for her whole life, every embarrassing utterance preserved for eternity, and it's clear that there's a problem here.
But I think I have the solution. Read on.
ó Cory Doctorow, Internet activist, blogger, co-editor of Boing Boing
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