Meet the first generation of Digital Suckers

This post has been inspired by the ongoing ACTA events and a series of conversations with my students. These young members of the Facebook generation are an eclectic ethnic and socio-economic mix, with really only their youth in common.

Naturally they had not heard of ACTA, but they knew about an increased risk of getting hassle for downloading stuff. What was interesting (to me at least) was how resigned they all seemed.

In fact, it's a good job our younger generation are a passive lot (summer rioters excepted), because if they weren’t I would be getting a little worried. My students have worked out that they have been caught in an almighty ‘gotcha!’.

They think their freedom has been stolen. They don’t mean by this their right to nick songs from media fat cats — they mean it more generally. I find myself persuaded.

To be ‘free’ means to be free of bondage or vulnerability to another person, corporation or state. Few of us of course are truly free, since membership of a society imposes duties in return for benefits, but even so we like to maximise and protect our freedoms.

Any sensible parent would advise a young person that in order to be free and prosper he or she should: work hard, gain qualifications, stay free of debt, be circumspect, use discretion and keep on the right side of the law.

Sounds reasonable, but let’s just look at the reality for many of our youth.

One million or more young adults have no work; every student with a higher education, except the most privileged, are in deep debt. Many hundreds of qualifications were deprecated this autumn.

Most of them live their private lives in full social networking view, even extending to being spied upon in their cars in exchange for insurance. To top it all, if they indiscriminately download music, someone almost for sure has their IP on a list of criminals.

In summary: being unemployed, known to the authorities (possibly to be prosecuted), in debt forever and possessing worthless qualifications may limit one’s freedom a little, wouldn't you agree?

So to spell it out in terms of the digital disaster generation:

  • If you’re young you will have no hiding place. A lot is known about you through social networks, phone-home apps on your smartphone inform on you, and even your movements may be tracked if you want young persons’ insurance for your car.
  • If you have an education you will owe money for most of your life and the databases will not forget you.
  • If you illegally shared music or films you will be known to the authorities and may face prosecution if it suits someone sometime in the future, according to SCOPA site takedown warnings.

In other words our first ‘digital natives’ look more like the first ‘digital suckers’.

Never before has a generation had its wings painlessly clipped before it left the nest. It’s a bit like being Greek; do as you’re told, and we’ll guarantee you a lifetime of servitude.

Let’s hope the kids don’t work it out, or else we may have more riots on our hands. It could take less than 140 characters to start the next revolution, and we'll only have ourselves to blame.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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