Wednesday, November 07, 2007

NetAlert: Be afraid, be very afraid

NetAlert is one aspect of our general culture of victimhood: a general set of attitudes leading us to believe that we are all victims in some way. Steeped in fear and uncertainty, this kind of culture fosters infantilisation. Whether it is admitting and facing some kind of victimisation, seeking help from the multitude of ‘experts’, or seeking increased security online, we are more increasingly fearful and protective of our very mode of existence. Children become the focal point of this process – the imaginary fantastic site where the collection of all fears is projected. In part, this is because of the uneasy relationship that the west has with child sexuality: sexualisation of children through advertising coupled with hysteria over the threat of perverts and paedophiles, and increased prolonging of adolescence (30s are the new 20s). Thus the need for over-protection, because this need is ultimately about protecting fantasy and controlling imagination.

At the same time, this culture fosters self-gratifying exhibitionism: Myspace, Facebook, Blogs, and similar web-diary technologies are as much about networking as they are about creating, projecting and distributing an image of yourself for your imagined audience. Although, this kind of technology creates a ‘safety-barrier’ where we control the information disseminated, nevertheless today more than ever, we are willing to make public the details of our private lives. This perhaps also explains why we are equally willing to submit ourselves to increased control and surveillance under the banner of security.

Protective technology such as NetAlert is about consumption. In today’s society, online technology is a product that when consumed represents a certain lifestyle. Whether creating a profile on Myspace, downloading hard-to-find niche music, or discussing Saw 4, this kind of technology enables us to experience a lifestyle through participation in a community. This includes the way in which this kind of technology normalises transgression, where we are all urged to ‘explore’ and ‘reinvent’ ourselves. It also includes the way in which this transgression takes place within (increasingly) controlled environment of the internet. Thus, NetAlert enables parents to work even harder and longer, while having the computer assume symbolic responsibility for the security of children. It combines the lifestyles of successful career and dedicated parenthood, with the intensively moral agenda that underpins NetAlert. Because, the kind of protection it offers is more about minimising the freedom of choice through monitoring, classifying and controlling of our activities.
1 See for details
2 Jodi Dean’s excellent blog ‘I cite’ regularly discusses many of the issues raised here. See

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