Hypertexting and hypernetworking have assumed a social relevance that most people are either unaware of or don't want to recognise. This week, irate customers forced Amazon.com to pull out an e-book called The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct from its popular Kindle e-reader titles after online campaigns called for a boycott of the online retailer until it removed the book from its virtual library.
Within hours of Amazon refusing to remove the title on the bizarre grounds that the company supported "the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions", pages called "Boycott Amazon.com for Selling Guide for Pedophiles" and "Boycott Amazon for Selling Pedophile Guide" gathered thousands of followers. Tweets supporting the boycott made the company see reason and remove the book on the same day.
Unlike the "pink chaddhi" campaign in India that grabbed media attention but did little more than amuse Muthalik's women-hating supporters, the anti-amazon campaigns, all unconnected, used instant communication platforms to get results. Like food and much else, instant communication has its uses when not overused.
This week, US researchers quantified how much hypertexting and hypernetworking was too much. They presented data that showed adolescents who sent an average of 120 hypertexts and more than three hours on a social networking site like Facebook on schoolday were at higher risk of smoking, drinking, getting into fights, risky sexual behaviour and drug abuse.
The only positive observation from the study was that parental intervention, especially the father's involvement, lowered risk as children. But parental supervision of online behaviour is easier said than done, given that most parents do not have the time, and technical competence, to figure out what their child is up to. Advising parents to keep the computer in a common area at home —as opposed to the child's bedroom — doesn't work anymore as most children stay use phones, laptops, ipads and other mobile devices to stay connected.
The same goes for the standard advice of telling children not to post personal information on social networks because most parents are clueless about social networks beyond the more popular Facebook or MySpace. The most effective net-nanny is communication between the parent and the child. Experts say what works best is to keep your child safe of Internet predators is to make them skeptical. If they take what people tell them online with a pinch of salt, they are more likely to be safer.
My 13-year-old is active on half a dozen sites, but has so far not posted any photographs or personal information even in the face of extreme temptation. He visited CERN outside Geneva last year and went down several basements to see the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) just weeks before it started its search for anti-matter. When the LHC grabbed media attention, no one quite believed he'd seen it all. He had photos with the wonder machine, but they could not be posted online as he's not allowed to share personal information online.
"I chat to stay connected, not to share my life", he told me when I said he could put of pictures of the LHC. The photos remain in the family album and he stays inseparable from his laptop. I, meanwhile, breathe a little easier knowing he has to negotiate the virtual world on his own, with a little help from his family and friends.