Would Peter Pan want his shadow to stick now?

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 7.22.49 PMDo you remember the part in the book (or the film) “Peter Pan” where Wendy Darling meets Peter Pan for the first time?

Peter, the boy who doesn’t want to grow up, finds his lost shadow in the Darling’s toy chest but cannot get it to stick back on and wakes Wendy with his crying:

Peter: I wasn’t crying about mothers. I was crying because I can’t get my shadow to stick on. Besides I wasn’t crying.

This week’s readings got me thinking about my own children – at home and at school- and their virtual shadows. They provoked some really good discussions about online privacy and, I hope, prompted them to review their own privacy settings.

These weren’t new discussions however. They have been rumbling away since December 2012 when my daughter, as part of the school rollout of 1:1 iPads, got her first iPad.

The rollout coincided with her best friend’s sleepover birthday party. I forbad my daughter from taking her iPad to the sleepover because I didn’t want over-excited pre-teens taking photos of each other in PJs and instantly ‘Instagraming’ them.. I also advised her to speak with her friends and ask them not to do this. She was pretty annoyed about this and maybe I wasn’t right to just ban her from taking it – but it was such an unknown quantity then.

The next week though, the news was ripe with indignation over the new terms of service regarding Instagram accounts (recently acquired by Facebook) ‘You agree that a business may pay Instagram to display your photos in connection with paid or sponsored content without any compensation to you.’

I would like to say that I acted in a mature, informed way when I showed the article to my daughter (sleepy from lack of sleep at the sleepover party!). I would like to say that I didn’t start with “Hah, see! I was right!!” But it was my daughter who was the adult in this situation. She read the article, told her friends and used it to start a conversation about privacy in her home group.

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 7.31.33 PMMany of the articles considered Facebook and its implications to our future employment lives. At this point I rejoice at being a child of the 80s, for despite bad hair dos, synthesized music and miners’ strikes I grew up in a UK pre-social networks. Nobody was able to take a photo of me in a bar, upload it to Facebook/Instagram and share it with realtime friends and everyone I would ever come in contact with but did not yet know. We got ourselves all hot under the collar when CCTV appeared on our city streets. This to us was a gross abuse of our freedom and clearly signaled that Big Brother was using every means possible to watch us. Maybe this was the beginning of an era of candid camera shots that we have no idea were taken.

Yet Facebook isn’t the only culprit as the excellent ‘Filter Bubble’ TED talk showed. I was reminded of the uncomfortable feeling I used to get when I opened my gmail account and was bombarded with adverts on my home page directly related to words that had appeared in my e mails. I was also reminded of an article entitled ‘Is Google Auto-Complete Evil?’ which suggests that the way Google finishes our sentences during internet searches is affecting our thoughts, values and opinions. The almost ‘subliminal’ nature of autocomplete is what makes it more disturbing in this context.

Which brings me back to Peter Pan. Our children will grow up. They may go to college. They will face a world in which employers know exactly what they were doing on the night of their graduations. They have to be aware of ways to protect the privacy we used to take for granted. We have to show them how to take charge of what is shared and with whom, so that they are able to keep their virtual shadows tightly shut up in a guarded chest when they wish to!

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