Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Medium Is Not The Message

Pavlov’s Cat has drawn my attention to this shocking event in which a group of school-aged boys assaulted a young woman, recorded their actions and proceeded to distribute evidence of their depravity by making DVD copies and selling them for $5 each.

It’s necessary for me to be absolutely clear that I find the actions of these young men inexcusable. I can’t find words that adequately express the extent of the repugnance and confusion I feel when I think about what these children did to another child, especially one so vulnerable, whose intellectual development has been delayed. That they profited from inflicting such torture is abominable.

While I was reading the report through The Age link that PC provided, however, I noticed another headline in the sidebar: ‘Ban this technology, says expert’ . In that story, a psychologist called for the banning of camera phone technology in Victorian schools:
"There needs to be protection. I do believe kids need to be protected from themselves and from their impulsivity and their lack of risk assessment and lack of prioritisation," Dr Carr-Gregg said.

"I think one way we can do this is by having a blanket ban on all camera-enabled (and) internet-enabled mobile phones in schools.

"I just think we shouldn't allow them. We've seen repeated incidents of happy-slapping, assault, kids shrieking with joy when they caught a particularly vicious assault on camera, and that's at school.''

Dr Carr-Gregg said the issue of bullying had moved beyond the schoolground and into cyberspace.

When I read the psychologist's proposal, I was mystified. The leap from condemning the behaviour of the young men to calling for the policing of the technology that they used seems to be quite illogical. Isn't the problem the criminal assault? It's true that the technology enables the recording and distribution of such actions, which adds insult to injury (and provides condemning evidence in court), but would getting rid of phone cameras stop the behaviour? Isn't the greater problem the extreme lack of empathy or compassion for a fellow human being, which needs to be addressed in a much more substantial and responsible way?

I find it quite alarming that some professional people dedicate their lives to condemning technology. I can understand condemning particular uses of technology, especially in this instance, but it's these teenagers' indifference to others that's surely the source of concern here; after all there are many people, young and older, who use their mobile phone's imaging capabilities everyday with the intent and effect of cultivating and maintaining good mutual relationships with others.

Update: More from Barista, as referenced in Lucy Tartan's comment


lucy tartan said...

The comment from Michael Carr-Gregg that I read in today's Age doesn't seem to be the same one you linked to. He was saying he is concerned that the always online life many kids lead now exposes them to bullying without respite whereas in the past kids could get away from the bully outside school hours.

I think there is perhaps some truth to that.

Barista has a post about this unbelievable story which is worth reading. He observes that the kids seem to have thought that "making a movie" rendered them free of responsibility for their actions.

Galaxy said...

Yes, this technology has enabled new ways to bully and I take your/Carr-Gregg's point that it leads to 'bullying without respite'.

I had originally put something in the post about the Abu Ghraib torture images, which I really think the boy's actions are akin to, even if they don't. There was no call for the banning of the technology those soldiers used. Was there? Which is why I tend to think the moral panic element enters into the debate when it becomes about young people/schools and media/technology.

I agree with Barista that there seems to be some kind of cognitive dissonance going on with these boys (and the Abu Ghraib soldiers), but I'm not convinced that in extreme cases like this, it's the technology that's the primary problem. Most people don't use their camera phones or the internet to intimidate, bully or harrass. Those that do should be held responsible and punished to the full extent of the law. And anyone having a copy of it, or found to be distributing it, should also accept responsibility for their complicity. (Listen to that father's pleas for his daughter's future.)

This is the same technology that has allowed people to communicate and form supportive communities in the most unprecedented and extraordinary way. Here I'm thinking of PC's recent comments about when bloggers get ill, and there's also the wonderful uses that you have instigated through Sarsaparilla. We constantly hear about and experience connections and friendships we would never otherwise have made.

I don't mean to downplay the role that technology plays in these abuses, but the problem seems to be about so much more than being able to have a camera phone at school, or not, having access to the internet, or not.

I wonder if this is one way of coping with such awful human behaviour, to transfer the horror onto inanimate technology, which acts as a scapegoat in its original sense. It enables the purging of something we just can't bear to contemplate in our children and ourselves.

Galaxy said...

Just something else I was thinking about as well re: the banning of technology. Is this a sensible solution when the horse has already bolted, as it were? The technology is here and being used, so would it be even possible to ban it effectively, if it was even desirable?

I also wonder about the thought processes of those who do hold technology responsible for these horrible events. Doesn't that logic enable the rest of us to think that such behaviour is nothing to do with us? It allows parents, teachers and the wider community to 'solve' the problem by banning mobile phones, rather than addressing or assuming responsibility for the children in question?

lucy tartan said...

Yes, yes, and yes. No easy answers here. As with the 'turkeyslap' incident on BB06.