God be with the days when the closest we came to the internet was the mysterious portal that was Bosco’s Magic Door. I can still remember the excitement as Frank or Jonathan or Mary or whoever recited their dark incantation about seeing what’s on the other side, only for the plywood door to wobble open into the lion enclosure in Dublin Zoo, a biscuit factory, or some other location that was within that mythical land known as The Pale.
There were many lessons contained in these segments – mainly, that magic was fairly shoddy, and had a limited reach that only stretched as far as Walkinstown, and that us culchies simply didn’t matter as our lands were unworthy of a visit by the red lord Bosco. Important lessons that still hold true to this day, although obviously for this generation, the Magic Door has made way for that most accursed of portals, the internet, also known as ‘that thing my kids stare at when they should be outside playing and keeping shift workers awake’.
I had assumed that my kids were particularly addicted to the dumpster fire that is YouTube, that their screen addiction was a side effect of rural isolation. Apparently not, as word from our more fortunate townie acquaintances suggest that green areas in the estates, once crowded with packs of feral kids chucking plastic bottles at cars and getting dog turd on their school shoes, are barren, silent places. The kids are all inside, watching YouTube, the equivalent of smearing dogturd across your brain.
Granted, that is a sweeping statement to make, but much of YouTube is a vast cultural desert, featuring the odd oasis of accurate, informative, engaging creations, and sprawling dunes of unboxing videos, conspiracy theories, celebrity-themed clickbait, Minecraft soap operas and the sun-bleached bones of Vine compilations scattered here and there. I am part of a generation who saw YouTube as the place with the worst comments section on the internet, where a five second clip of a kitten falling asleep in a drawer would lead you into a scrolling warzone of racism, misogyny, and death threats. Obviously as technology moved on, those in the comments section just started making their own content, and monetizing their mental health difficulties. This is why I am now at the stage of parenting where, after being forced to explain to my son that there are people on the internet who mean him harm and that, much like real life, he should never, ever talk to strangers, I have to try and teach him how to spot disinformation, propaganda or just plain lies.
Much like Fr Ted Crilly’s Golden Cleric speech, the Digital 101 module I am teaching my son has now reached the section titled ‘liars’. He keeps telling me about videos that come with exaggerated thumbnails promising some great revelation but are actually a video of some jackanapes reacting to a video of someone reacting to a video of someone unboxing a poundshop toy. What makes YouTube such a plague is that it is unfettered bilge – say what you like about RTE, but there is quality control, craft and care that goes into their programming, and your child doesn’t get fed literally fake news by the mbps.
YouTube is almost impossible to avoid – even with a filter to stop adult material it is still a malfunctioning sluice for grot and rot. You can switch off the WiFi, but sooner or later you are going to have to teach kids that the internet is a haunted amusement park, and better to do it now before they are old enough to own credit cards or bank accounts which they can give away to the first scammer to appear in their email.
The main difference between my youth and my son’s is that the flow of information was generally controlled – by Church, by State and by its own citizens. Now there is an open conduit into all our homes, a Pandora’s box which, unlike Bosco’s, cannot be closed. All I can do is try to teach him one of the most important lessons in life – how to spot a lie.