Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

iPads and the war on morality

Once again, conservative columnist Brent Bozell is after (1) the high tech industry, and (2) the purveyors of popular media.

Anyone who reads Bozell's column regularly is probably wondering why this is even deserving of mention, as it seems to be about all he ever talks about.  If you simply wrote out the phrase, "The Internet and the entertainment industry are destroying the morals of America's youth!" and read it every week, it would save you reading his column, which takes valuable minutes of your life that you'll never get back.

Be that as it may, I read Bozell's column every once in a while, and this morning perused his latest screed, titled "New Gadgets, New Worries."  This article was a response to the statement by Mike Elgan of PC World magazine that Apple's iPad is going to be "the children's Toy of the Year."  Predictably, Bozell treated this statement as if it were a coded way of saying, "Parents are once again tossing their children into the maw of hell."  Elgan himself refers to the iPad as a "kid pacifier" (in situations such as long car rides), and states that inevitably kids will end up monopolizing an iPad if the parent owns one; "The path of least resistance is for the parent to get the kids an iPad of their own."  Bozell responds that this will open up another avenue of assault against children using the weapon of graphically violent or sexual video material (including not only games, but actual television shows viewable on the iPad).

There are a variety of grounds on which I question Bozell's arguments (and Elgan's, too, as you'll see).

First, one has to wonder if Bozell has ever heard of the term "source bias."  Of course Elgan thinks that the iPad is going to be the Toy of the Year; he works for PC World magazine, for cryin' out loud.  It's hardly likely that an article in PC World is going to claim that this year's Toy of the Year is the frisbee.  Further, Elgan's statement about parents buying their kids iPads sounds like a lot of wishful thinking, in my opinion.  Market prices (I looked around and they seem to start at around $500) are simply out of the range of most families to afford.

But Elgan's bias and pipe dreams are minor sins against the gods of logic as compared to Bozell's.  As usual, he paints children as helpless dupes, pawns in the entertainment industry's war on morals, and parents as even more helpless -- weak-spined jellyfish who cave at every whine our kids emit.  Well, listen up, Mr. Bozell (okay, I know he probably doesn't read my blog, but just humor me here) -- I teach morals and ethics as part of my class in Critical Thinking, and in my experience the high school students I deal with have a sophisticated, well-considered sense of right and wrong.  They may be more forgiving of transgressions that were taboo when you and I were teenagers (e.g. sex before marriage), but by and large, they are respectful of authority, understand and honor commitments, and believe that telling the truth matters.  They may watch South Park and Family Guy, but they know the difference between fiction and/or satire and real life, seemingly better than you do.

And another thing, Mr. Bozell; you seem to have the attitude that if a kid begs for something, parents have no other choice than to acquiesce.  Let me suggest a radical proposal; if the regular readers of your column are alarmed at the sex and violence on television, they should turn the damn thing off.  That's what I did, when my kids were little.  Actually, I went a further step.  We live in the middle of nowhere (the original Podunk is about five miles from my home -- so I don't even live in Podunk, U.S.A., I live in the outskirts of Podunk).  This means that without a satellite dish, we have no television reception at all.  My solution:  no dish.  The question of what the kids were watching when I wasn't around became a non-issue; they could watch the TV all the time, if they for some reason enjoyed static, snow, and white noise.  We had videos and DVDs, of our choice, for them to watch on occasion.  And you know what?  My now twenty-year-old thanked me a while back for limiting their access to television when they were young -- for having the guts to make that choice, for not letting the television become a babysitter, for not exposing them to the rampant commercialism of public media, which to me is more of an issue than the sexuality and violence.

The bottom line is; kids are smarter and more moral than you think, and parents not quite the hapless dimwits you claim they are.  Give credit to someone other than yourself for some brains and ethical standards, and for the love o' pete, find a new topic to blather on about.  This one's getting old.

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