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.