Automated scary nursery rhymes

Several friends shared an article written by James Bridle. Bridle describes why he worries about the content being published on Youtube and how that content can end up being watched by young kids. When more than one friend shares such an article, it’s something worth reading.

Read the article first (long read!). Then come back to read my reflections.

I’m not a fanatic Youtube watcher so I only hear about new trends very late into the game. I heard about the popularity of unwrapping stuff and how kids seem to be mesmerised by them. I heard about all the seemingly stupid video channels targeting very young kids (babies even) to capture their attention and ‘teach’ them colours and shapes and stuff. Out of curiosity I’ve watched a few seconds and dismissed them as irrelevant, despite the statistics showing their popularity.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Youtube user from the very beginning. Yet, being an early digital adopter, I now am in that phase I’m trying to live a less digital life (read: depend less on social media giants). It has a lot to do with shallow content being published. That’s not what attracted me to the social web in the early days. My corner of the web used to be about sharing your knowledge, doubts and thoughts on a deeper level than today’s norm.

When Youtube came along we were all amazed about the option to share video’s online with a wide audience. Before Youtube, that was technically impossible for individuals. I opened a channel and used it to host videos I created. It even enabled me to focus more on video production in my work for clients.

With the rise of YT’s popularity came the cheap and easy to use videocamera’s and quickly most videos shared online were in the category funniest home videos. I became less enchanted with Youtube when they introduced ads and turned to Vimeo to host my videos. For me the web has always been a platform to share with peers, not about catching eyeballs and ad clicking. I’m an exception. Needless to say that today the web’s public space is dominated by commerce and we are the product commerce is selling. Our attention has value, no matter how short it is. That includes your kids’ attention, right from the age they can focus their eyes on a screen (and believe me, that’s sooner than you think).

I have no illusions about the dark side of the web. I’m not naive about its awful corners and I take for a fact that stupid and shitty stuff is being published all the time on Youtube and everywhere else online. In contrast to James Bridle I am a parent, and to be honest, I’m not so shocked about the videos he describes being published. It might have something to do with a better grasp of how the social web came about, having watched algorithms getting introduced and observing how they changed your search results (remember localised Google search results being introduced?). All this knowledge I built up over the years, just by observing how the social web grew, always made it clear to me that kids and young adults need a lot of guidance being online. We’ve watched colleagues and friends struggle to grasp what their teenage kids were doing in a world that they, as parents, were not even aware of existed. Some of them would dismiss it as play, until the first stories became public about girls being forced by their online boy friends to undress in front of a webcam. Most parents weren’t even aware chat boxes existed, let alone their kids would start online romances.

These days all our friends are figuring out how much screen time their kids are allowed. Most of them restrict access to online media as suits their kids’ age. We do too. Every now and then we watch a bit of Peppa Pig through Netflix. Every now and then we watch pictures through Google search. Cars mainly these days. My daughter is one and half. Learning about colours is something we do during play. Pointing to Lego blocks or other toys and naming them. Books are fun too. We play songs on the stereo, not through Youtube (Menahmenah being the only exception). It will take a long time before my daughter is allowed to watch Youtube unsupervised. So I’m not afraid my daughter will watch automated scary nursery rhymes any time soon.

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  1. I have read the article as well. While I’m not happy with the autoplay on youtube, which always gets kids into “one more” mode, I didn’t see anything scary and dumb in what comes up in the list when I do look. But we do limit screen time, especially passive entertainment time, and we watch lots of things together on youtube, which also helps forming what its algorithms bring in as next.

    I also feel good of not having ipads anymore (two broken in accidents and not replaced). They are really easy to use for small kids, portable and addictive. It’s way too easy to give one (with good educational games) to the kids when they have to wait in a public space or sit long during traveling. And then they ask for more and don’t have time to learn how to look out of the window, talk or entertain themselves.

    Anyway, happy to see you writing on those things. I’d be happy to hear more about your choices at an intersection of technology and parenting. In particularly I’d love to hear more about your choices in respect to online photos of your daughter – what are the reasoning behind? do you have any photos of her (face) online or totally not? do you have any secure channels to share some of it with your family?

    • Funny thing that you mention the iPad. Just this week we mentioned that it’s a big benefit that we don’t use tablets at the moment.

      In regards to posting pictures online, we never post pictures of her face online. Face recognition technology is advancing rapidly so I wouldn’t be surprised that in the near future software can calculate from an adult face backwards and find a person’s child pictures. I don’t want a US company to have more biometrical information of my kid in their database than my government has. And then there is the weird web which likes to remix stuff for fun. I’ve seen pictures shared as a joke, of little kids with adult penises photoshopped over their diapers. I’d rather not risk my kid being laughing stock for immature adults.

      Don’t expect too much thoughts on parenting and technology here though. We just go with the flow and manage use of technology using common sense.

      • We had a natural experiment with iPads 🙂 Even with a very limited use that we allowed they were too attractive. Especially for the very young, under 3.

        As for the photos, I’m curious how you will follow though with it once you have to give permissions to daycare, school, sportclub and so for the group photos online. I was really hesitating with the last one from the choir where our kids go, but also understand the need to show their work online and the difficulty of making photos showing the activity without having any faces there, which I’m slowly learning when posting about homeschooling.

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