I was talking to a teenager today. That’s right, an actual youth of Broken Britain. It wasn’t as terrifying an experience as you might have thought though. For starters, he didn’t speak in that bizarre faux-patois accent that Young White Middle Englanders seem to have adopted, and so I was able to understand him enough to use the usual line of questioning I follow with anybody under 25 that I meet these days. Questions about school, pop stars, films and, since the project I did with Max Gadney about ‘Young People and News’ some years ago, about the internet. It turned out this particular youngster wasn’t as enamored with Facebook and the social media revolution as case studies frequently suggest. It didn’t seem to bother him that much. In fact, neither did films or pop stars despite my suggesting all the really cool and violent ones he should perhaps ‘Google’. If he actually used the internet at all. Anyway, none of this is really helping my point. I wanted to talk about young people who are keen internet users and Facebook status updaters. The conversation with young Jake really served no purpose other than it got me thinking about what I’d be like now as a teenager, and how I’d get in all kinds of trouble based on stuff I write on the internet.
I post to Twitter, which is linked to my Facebook status, about once every couple of days. I write utter nonsense generally. Jokes I’m trying to tell, or observations of life unfolding around me. Sometimes I joke about things I know at least some of my followers/friends will disagree with, because I enjoy being a bit provocative. Then I get surprised when they respond annoyed, and deny any provocation. But, I do have some loose rules around what I post, and by which i judge what other people post. I generally don’t mention anything overly personal, intentionally obscure or exclusive to certain groups of friends. I don’t make direct comments to specific people, and certainly not to my girlfriend. My online behaviour almost mirrors my Real Life behaviour in social situations; Sometimes reserved, with frequent bouts of angry swearing and attempts to offend whole chunks of society through ridiculous sweeping generalisations. But across platforms at least I am consistent.
When I was a teenager I was much less aware of how to condone myself socially, even moreso than today. I would wear my heart on my sleeve, act with incredible self-righteousness on subjects I knew nothing about, and say lots of other naive embarrassing things that other not-fully-formed people do between the ages of 13 and 19. I was the kind of idiot who’d compose bad poetry in the back of his log book at school. You get the picture. It doesn’t bear thinking what a tit I’d have made of myself if there was such a thing as Facebook/Twitter/My Space when I was that age. As many of us, I remember leaving parties in my teenage years a little worse for wear and emotionally distraught. If I had such an outlet who knows what unbearable gut-wrenching cringeworthyness I would have blurted half drunk to my idiot school friends and acquaintances. It would almost certainly have been in the third person, brimming with sarcasm, and would definitely have name-checked at least two or three of the other partygoers. ‘Toby is just fine that no-one asked him how he was after failing his Driving Theory Test, and hopes Sebastian and Timothy really enjoyed chatting up the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen on Saturday night.’ Eurrgh.
Having said that, there are plenty of well-adjusted grown ups amongst my Facebook friends who are still prone to the typically teenage ‘cry for help’. Statuses like ‘Feeling sad…’, ‘Well that’s three years of my life wasted…’, generally people who use more than their fair share of ellipses, are all examples of these adolescent yearnings for attention. Maybe those people are just more in touch with their youth than I. There I go again with the ridiculous broad generalisations…
How would I, or teenagers today, cope with the future realisation that these comments are permanent and entirely searchable? We all know that people search potential suitors on the internet before dates, and that some employers do likewise before job interviews. What’s the point in lying so elequently in your CV if once they get it they’re able to access the uncensored truth so easily? Forget three years as assistant manager in a local record shop. they’ll be much more concerned with all the Internet activity they have of you bragging about being so ‘mashed’ every weekend.
Plus, it’ll stay findable throughout your whole life, by anyone who cares to look. A lot is said about how much information these huge faceless organisations hold on us, but it doesn’t really bother me that much. I’ve always assumed there are loads of horrible intrusive files kept on each and every one of us, such was my interest in paranoid 1970s sci-fi films growing up. That they’d keep ones on me specifically I’d actually be more flattered about than frightened. No, what scares me is the thought of my future grandchildren having uncensored access to every pithy remark and conversation I had in my youth. My generation, in general, still respects the elderly. They survived world wars, lived thriftily to provide for their offspring and deserve to spend their final years in peace and happiness. We were bought up in the extravagant 80s, with luxuries our grandparents couldn’t have dreamt of, and our trail of internet archived material would reflect this indulgence. Children aren’t going to respect us in our old age when they know the truths behind our vague sage advice.
“What did you do in the (second Gulf) War grandpa?”
“Well little Tobetta, it was difficult times, and people made difficult choices as to how they thought they could contribute.”
**Pats Tobetta on the head**
“But according to your Xbox statistics you spent those six years around the war playing Call of Duty 4 online? And I read all those jokes you’d make about 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan decades later. How was that contributing anything even slightly worthwhile?”
(Uncomfortably long pause)
**Pats Tobetta on head again**
Thanks to the permanent binds these services create, a youngster leaving school these days is less likely to experience the same exciting feeling of escape that I did. They’re going to be in virtual contact with everyone from their class from the first term they’re away at university, a constant reminder of the previous self you’re pretending not to be to your new peers. Friends at school have known you through the most intense and dislikable time of your life. No matter how nice they are, it’s impossible to re-invent yourself when they’re still about. Where’s the ten year recovery period that most decent minded people need in order to fully rid themselves of the horrors of a small-town comprehensive school?
‘Toby just loves La Jetée. A sublime masterpiece. Less a film, more slowly-moving poetry.’
Comment – “Was it slow moving like that time you shit yourself doing the 400 metres after we’d eaten all those Cherry Tarts we found in McCluskies store cupboard? “I can’t run, it’s dripping down my leg” LOLOLOL!”
Maybe young peoples attitude to these services will wain as the years go past, as they experience the potential pitfalls themselves. Or perhaps someone will invent another hugely popular service that goes through the Internet burying your embarrassing past. Who knows, in five years time we might all be cowering behind individual pay-walls, if current big media trends keep spreading. Anyway, back to me talking to the teenager. As I said, he was quite unlike the stereotypes the Daily Mail breed about his ilk. Perhaps my reliance on broad generalisations is something I should try to rid from my personality, both online and in real life, in the coming years. We had had a good chat, and I doubt I’d have been able to have done that with someone my age when I was his. Mind you, he did stab me at the end, and filmed himself doing so on his mobile phone. Go to Youtube and see it for yourself. No need to rush, it’ll be there forever.