Leo Reynolds Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England, UK
Rousseau’s oft-quoted line from his political treatise, The Social Contract, reads, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they.” I am drawn to this after having just finished reading a blog post about the work of anthropologists and social scientists (notably Iona and Peter Opie’s The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren) to chronicle children’s street culture. The post by Birguslatro compares the lives of children before and after their worlds had been circumscribed by adult fears. And circumscribed seems to me to be the only way to describe it.
My childhood was one of freedom. My mother’s constant litany to my brothers and me was, “Go outside and play. I don’t want to see you until supper.” The current state of children’s freedom is not even remotely recognizable as free. And don’t even begin to equate mouse clicks to biking anywhere I wanted. Don’t even. Here is the paragraph in the post that summarizes the difference.
Outside of pockets of extreme deprivation, children’s society is severely restricted by our practice of placing children under the equivalent of house arrest. In only three generations, children in the British Isles as well as the United States have lost their freedom to roam, their independently explorable territories shrinking from hundreds of acres to the dimensions of each child’s own back yard. This is not an accusation toward parents; their decisions reflect their judgments about their children’s safety in the world. Specifically, parents judge that there is no community beyond their doors that they can rely on to keep their children safe.
We are entering a brave new world of circumscription that really has me worried about what has been lost and what gained. I am not the bitter old man on the porch. I champion freedoms of all kinds, virtual and actual. Like the post argues, I don’t think the Internet caused the problem. In fact, the Internet is the last bastion of childhood freedom. It is the last of the childhood commons. And, as the post argues, this has some negative affordances.
The failure of adult culture, both its physical architecture and its social institutions, has impoverished children’s culture. And in return, children no longer avidly train, in their play, to take over the burden of preserving and remaking adult culture.
If that future doesn’t leave you chilled, I don’t know what will. Once this connection dies who knows what will take its place. Something will take its place, it is just an unknown and unknowable something.
The post ends with a sad and diminished expectation that leaves me despising myself for the world of connections we have left to our generations, reduced and enclosed.
Somewhere a child alone in his room, wearing headphones, is fighting ‘Jenny wi the airn teeth’, a computer-controlled enemy in a video game. But perhaps at least it is a multiplayer game, and he has his fellows with him.
Birguslatro. “The Last of the Monsters with Iron Teeth.” Carcinisation. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.