I find it difficult to get my head around the way teenagers are so needy of their electronic devices, but it's what they are used to. At a certain age children will probably have their own smartphones and certainly won’t want parents as Facebook friends; then it becomes tricky to keep a finger on the pulse. My youngest drove me mad with his new phone this summer, filming me washing up, until I yelled at him "Will you please stop it and find something useful to do!" This was instantly relayed to his Snapchat group who apparently found it hilarious. As adults we should be leading the way on acceptable behaviour, but sometimes I wonder if there is hope. I see grown men weirdly stroking their phones, women addicted to Candy Crush and the sad sight of families in restaurants texting and talking to phones instead of one another.
InRealLife exposes the lives of teenagers who hook up to different aspects of the internet. Naturally Beeban has selected some extremes in her film for viewing interest, but the stories are believable and real. From his bedroom, where he browses a broad menu of internet porn, Ryan confesses that his porn habit has tainted his view of love and has such a hold on him that he is unable to look at girls in a realistic way. Next is a girl whose face we don’t see, who tells how her Blackberry was taken from her by a group of boys and how she endured sexual assault in return for her phone. There is a tragic tale of cyberbullying and parents left at a complete loss. A YouTube meet-up in London shows a happier and more creative side to the internet, bringing young people together in the open air (until it is broken up by police). A long distance online love affair between two boys is filmed, following them from behind their laptops to the first time they meet in person. The last glimpse we have of them is lying together, locking phones and exchanging their personal data.
The addictive world of gaming is addressed and the creepy man from EA Games has given me nightmares with his ghoulish looks and pale, waxy skin that never sees daylight. Is this the modern day child catcher enticing children into the gaming world? When he mentioned how excited he was at seeing two year olds playing electronic games, it made me feel queasy. EA employs top psychologists to create games that give the gamer a heady cocktail of highs and lows, always leaving them with a taste for more. Filmed against a backdrop of bookshelves, an ex-student (who had been kicked out of Oxford for his gaming habit), was back at home spending on average two hours a day on YouTube and five hours on Xbox. What else was there to do, he asks? The camera pans to the rolling hills of the quiet, wintry English countryside.
I’ve only touched on some of the documentary, as it tries to cover such vast territory. Expert viewpoints are aired, including those of Professor Sherry Turkle and we see images of cables that are moving internet data and data storage centres that hold captured data, building up a picture of our likes and online habits for commercial purposes. Pop-up boxes and click bait all distract internet users from their original path; it's too easy to lose track of what we were originally searching for. We’ve become accustomed to being diverted, messaged, interrupted, entertained.
The Eton schoolboys’ Gangnam Style viral video pops up several times and it’s no wonder that Beeban asks the question: have we outsourced our children to the internet? I hope not, it’s a frightening thought, as once our children and young adults are out of the house and on the move it is impossible to police what they are doing every minute of the day.
On Sunday 22nd September cinemas across the land will mark the release of InRealLife with a special panel discussion live event - broadcast live from the Ritzy cinema in Brixton. The panel will be hosted by Jon Snow with panelists including director Beeban Kidron, Government advisor on Online Child Safety John Carr and Editorial Director of the Sunday Times (and mother of two) Eleanor Mills.
Thank you to Mumsnet Bloggers Network for giving me the opportunity to see the film and meet Beeban Kidron.