Youth Focus: North East blog

Young people in the Digital Age

Can anyone remember what life was like before the Internet?

I remember reading lots of Dorling Kindersley books about history and natural history and harbour some vague recollections about flicking through a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and at one point I might have owned an atlas. Nowadays though, if I want to know what something is, I’ll Wikipedia it. If I want to know where something is, I’ll Google Maps it. Everything is available at the tap of a screen.

Since it’s beginnings in the 1990s, the Web has been responsible for many incredible and beneficial services such as making global communication and the sharing of information, knowledge and experience significantly easier. It has also created a new on-demand platform met by content providers such as Netflix, YouTube, Twitch, and Amazon Prime Instant Video. Charities and not-for-profits have also benefitted through online petitioning and fundraising which is changing the way in which we interact with charities and crowdfunding is also responsible for helping many people achieve their creative or business goals. I’ve made friends online, worked collaboratively with other people halfway around the World online, and learned through the Internet (mainly through YouTube’s vast how-to DIY videos, it has to be said). But it also has a dark side…

The Internet doesn’t kill people, people kill people

Nowadays, more and more people are finding new ways to bully, coerce, exploit, cheat and shame. More recently, people are finding new ways to do potentially very serious damage to each other, and then to try and convince others that this is a good idea worth repeating themselves! Between December 2013 and February 2014, NekNomination went viral; encouraging people to down an alcoholic drink in one go and then nominate two others to do the same. This resulted in machismo taking over and the stakes being raised. Instead of drinking a pint of beer, it was a pint of vodka. Instead of vodka, it was a mix of white wine and whiskey. In the three months that NekNomination was a thing, five people died in the United Kingdom through actions directly relating to the fad. Alcohol is already responsible for 1/5 deaths in the UK for people under 45-years-old so the glorification of this and the laddish “oi oi banter” culture that sprang up around this upset me greatly. People were actively encouraging others to up the game, goading each other on to try new, more dangerous combinations of drink so their friends didn’t think they were not up for a laugh.

Fast-forward to the present day and this fad is still apparent, although the modus operandi has changed somewhat. Paracetamol Challenges and Hanging Crazes have all reared their ugly heads in the last month resulting in hospitalizations and reports of permanent brain damage to a small number of children and young people. Pleasingly, the hashtag #paracetamolchallenge was taken over by young people warning against the act and publicly supporting those who used their own painkiller addictions to deter others. There were also calls for parents to take more control over what their children are accessing online but is that actually something we can do in this digital age?

Back when I was at school there were attempts at Internet censoring through “Net Nanny” or other web filtering methods but these were largely ineffective and the Internet can change so much in such a short amount of time that keeping up to date with current online threats is almost a full-time job in itself. Young people are growing up with technology, are increasingly savvy and indeed almost everyone has at least one internet-enabled device on their person at any one time [I’m currently writing this on a laptop surrounded by social media on a tablet and streaming music from my mobile].

The revolution will not be televised, but it will be hashtagged

It’s not all bad though! The Internet has had an impact on young people in their approach to activism and engagement with charities. Young people are increasingly being defined as slacktivists – a portmanteau of slacker and activist; a pejorative term to describe being seen to support causes that have little practical or physical affect for self-gratitude and requires minimal effort to support. I think this is massively unfair on young people and instead of blasting them we should be supporting them for taking an interest in issues and making themselves more aware of the World around them. I held a politics workshop back in January and one of the key issues young people identified is that they felt they were not aware of major issues happening around them and the Internet, used correctly, can be a great tool to raise both your own awareness and the awareness of others.

Undeniably, young people are getting more involved in using free online resources at their disposal such as JustGiving, Change.org and GoFundMe to make positive changes in their communities. Whether that is signing a petition to save a cherished building or raising money for a vulnerable person to feel more secure shouldn’t really matter; the important thing is that young people are taking a vested interest in their communities and are taking actions, whether small or large, to make these changes. Young people are then using the reach of their social media networks to spread the message far and wide and encourage others to learn more and take part.

– Jamie Mercer, Regional Development Officer

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