I’ve been following the Ryan Tate late-night rant (language) over Steve Jobs’ desire for a world “free from porn” and his objections therein (while still not completely sure the purpose for his rant). While pornography was only one of the things Jobs highlighted, Tate, who has no children of his own, seemed to focus on it, considering a world “free from porn” an infringement on his own privacies. I’d like to take a different angle and share my own views, as a parent of 4 children, and how I really feel the web as we know it infringes my own freedom as a parent. It also infringes on my children’s own freedom, in the the native choices technology-wise that I have access to in order to protect my children and my family from pornography. That’s right, I said it (well, I’ve said it before) – the web, while open, is not entirely free. Let me explain.
Let me start with the point that, while outside this blog I may have my own opinions and beliefs, I am not saying in any way or form whether porn is “evil”, or “not evil”, or whether it is “good”, or “bad” for society. That is not the purpose of this article, and I’ll leave that for you to decide. One thing I think we can all agree on however is that, for good or for bad, pornography affects us all, and, as an individual, or father of 4 children, I don’t have much choice in the matter. Let’s face it – whether I want it or not, my children are going to see porn, probably many, many times in their life, perhaps way before they are old enough to even know what it is. As a parent, at least the way the open web works, at a native level I don’t have any choice in that matter. Is that freedom?
Right now we live on a very open web. It’s a vast web, linked together from website to website, which enables sites like Google and MSN and others to index that content and provide answers to many questions. We have a whole lot more knowledge because of that. At the same time it’s a very wild west atmosphere – the very “Net Neutrality” we are all fighting for is keeping any sort of control that parents and families so desperately want for their children from accidentally stumbling on things they don’t want to see. This is probably why much more closed environments like Facebook are thriving – we’re being given some level of control, as parents and individuals, over this very open atmosphere. We need an open way to fix this problem. Or maybe closed is the only solution…
Let me share an example: My daughter, who is 9 (not even starting puberty yet), told us the story of her friends at school talking about various sexual topics. She told us about one friend, a boy, who wanted to know what sex was, so he Googled “sex” on the internet, something he knew how to do from school when he had a question about how something works or what something was. Needless to say, as parents, at age 9, we were fortunate enough to have our daughter ask about this before Googling herself, but we were now forced to give “the talk” to a 9 year old. I can only imagine that boy’s parents – I hope he talked with them about what he found.
As a father of 4, I’m scared to death what my kids are going to have to go through. I certainly don’t want to shelter them from the world, but at the same time I want to be the one introducing them to the world, not the world getting to them first. We need innovation in this area. I’m worried it’s an area that gets little attention because the innovators in this space either aren’t parents themselves, or have no objections to their children seeing it. The thing is, this isn’t a “good” vs. “bad” battle. This is a battle about true “freedom”. This isn’t about anyone telling you that you can’t watch porn. This is about those on the web that don’t want to watch it or come across it being able to avoid it entirely, as a native component of the web.
Right now all the solutions out there are hacks. Solutions like (my favorite – I’ll be doing a review soon) Net Nanny, Norton Internet Security, and others are great at helping parents to monitor what their kids are doing and even protecting them from things their parents don’t want them to see, but in reality they’re just solving a problem the web should have solved in the first place. Pornography, sexual content, violence, or anything else we, as parents and individuals want a handle over should be elements that are handled at the core of the web. The web needs elements to identify this type of content, and ways to punish those that don’t identify their content, taking away the overall freedom that is inherent to the web. The web should be about choice. It’s not at the moment.
At the same time, operating systems, like Windows, OS X, the iPad, Android, and the iPhone, all need to have layers built in that give parents and individuals more control over the content they want to see. I should note that Facebook, at the moment, has no way for me as a parent to monitor what my child is doing on the site – I can’t let my kids on it until I have that control. Don’t even get me started about Google Chat.
I’m not quite sure what the solution is, but we need innovation in this area. Perhaps XRD or the new JRD and identifiers for content are the solution. Maybe Google and Microsoft and others that index this content could reward sites with higher search rankings that properly identify their data. Maybe a “.xxx” TLD is the solution. At the same time we have to take into account chat, and how people interact online. Maybe verified identity is the solution in this area. On the open web we can’t give up on this effort though, or the more closed solutions, like Jobs inferred with the iPad, are going to win, and rightfully so.
Steve Jobs is right, whether Ryan Tate likes it or not – as a parent I am not free on the web right now. The only freedom I have is to just turn off the computer, keep my kids from learning technology at a young age, and hope they don’t see it at school, or at a friends’ house, or the elsewhere (which they will). Freedom is about choice – we should all have the choice in this matter, and that choice just doesn’t exist on the web at the moment. I hope the Open Web can fix these problems before Apple, or Microsoft, or Facebook do it in a closed environment. Either way, I welcome the extra freedom I will get from it.
From one parent to another: Thank you Steve, for trying to make my life as a parent a little more “free”.