Assange, Swartz, Manning, Snowden: you get it, right?

A fundamental part of being a human nowadays is that if you don’t really understand something, you are pretty certain that someone somewhere is an expert at it; and if it is a matter of global political discourse that many people know about it, and not only *it*, but all the tiny *its* that are a part of the big *it*, that obviously some University or other is studying, or has studied the facts for years and the next generations are far better equipped to deal with the complicated future. (I think I might just have stumbled on the formula for Radio 4).

We take heart from the academic inquisitiveness, so we don’t all need to know the nuts and bolts of what is causing us to have a slightly uncomfortable feeling – because the current and next generations are getting ever more clever and brilliant. Phew…

Assange

What: Wikileaks

Common understanding: publishing lots of things through a site called Wikileaks

Scary: because there is no control over what is being published

Phew: he is being held in a room in an Embassy in London and (weirdly) the government people went and oversaw (not sure if that is English) the destruction of the Guardian hard drives containing the information, which should be OK

Swartz

What: Committed suicide after being arrested for illegally downloading academic journals

Common understanding: young geek allegedly caught stealing/illegally downloading academic journals with a mind to publish them for free. His suicide was a nasty shock and no one can ever know why, but the court case and litigators were mighty, so that was probably tough for a young person

Scary: someone actually died

Phew: freely publishing academic journals, whilst wrong, does not sound like it threatens our security – this was just a single, and very sad, case

Manning

What: leaked restricted documents

Common understanding: a US soldier released classified documents to Wikileaks

Scary: who knows what is in these documents

Phew: she (Manning has since changed sex, but this is unrelated) has been caught and punished

Snowden

What: leaked details of mass surveillance

Common understanding: US and UK government agencies can read our private email and messages

Scary: not sure we want government agencies of any country reading our emails

Phew: maybe they will intercept the terrorist emails and not illicit sexting, and someone will work out whether this is right or wrong – meanwhile Snowden has not been arrested yet so it is not something to be too worried about… but we had better be a bit more careful about the illicit stuff and what we say in emails “haha @jamesbond *just joshing* (please disregard this message)…”

Obtuse

I am being deliberately obtuse here to illustrate a point. If you are not news or politically minded, I could point to the completely baffling business models of modern day organisations: twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat – where is the revenue model? Someone obviously knows something, I mean of course there is an ad revenue in services such as Google, but *ha* I will not be caught out by those suggested ads so that won’t last. And I must protect everything I put on Facebook because Mark Z is going to sell my data to someone, which might mean I put my family at risk, so I had better just be very careful what I put on FB, and occasionally lie to wrong-foot those would-be thieves/burglars/bad people. (Also what I write in my emails in case the FBI is monitoring me).

Thank goodness, we cry, that we are from the last century and can reminisce fondly on our first experiences with computing. These digital kids, we can’t even begin to understand their world…

“… why I even have to get my son/daughter to help me dm someone on twitter… ha! Vine? I like mine bottled not digital… kids nowadays, they are the digerati!…”

But yet

  • in schools we do not teach children the basics of programming, the language of the digital world – this is changing next year in the UK with the introduction of coding in primary and secondary education so in 15/20 years time we will have lots of people grounded in the digital basics in the workforce
  • we stopped teaching programming in schools over 20 years ago therefore there is a huge generational gap in the mass market of people who actually have a grasp on the digital revolution
  • very few people worldwide actually understand and drive the digital direction, because it all happened so fast and generation upon generation assumed the education system was keeping up
  • there are more and more demands on a rapidly dwindling and ageing digital workforce by analogue institutions, trying to ram digital renaissance into creaking infrastructures
  • *those in charge* of the next generations, including us parents, make it our life’s work – no it is our duty – to limit, deny and restrict access to the digital world, that superhighway of paedophiles and porn because someone else will be educating them in all the stuff they actually need to know in this digital future, the educational and politically important stuff that someone else knows all about… right?
  • our kids spend their lives online, they need to get offline and play, take an interest in the real world (that world that drives stories such as Assange, Swartz, Manning and Snowden)

I hate to scare you, but the reality is that our children need to be online, our duty is to give them digital freedom to explore and learn. The rules are not yet made for digital citizenship, our children need to define, shape and abide by them. Not just in keeping safe. Not just in understanding whether Assange, Swartz, Manning, Snowden are right or wrong. Or whether a business based on reach of message to mass communities is a viable model. Or what open data really means.

The current drive to teach our kids to code is being built on a sand-bound argument of economy, but I challenge this. We need to actively find ways to educate our children and ourselves in the basics of the Internet, of information, of data, of sharing, of algorithms – computational thinking.

Because, if we don’t, an ever decreasing number of us will actually really understand, and an ever decreasing number of us will shape the future. And history has shown time and time again that this way madness lies.