When I was a child (said with a gravelly weathered voice), we bullied with real fists, none of this high fluting technological stuff.
Note: I’m not an old man. I’m 29 years old. Part of the generation that saw the .com boom, the Y2K scare, a revolution drawn together via Twitter and Facebook. But the truth is, when I was a child my school was just getting a computer lab.
Kids, these days, are getting cellphones for Christmas or an iPod touch or some other device that in my child-mind, I’d envision one of The Jetsons owning. FaceTime – video conferencing with friends in real time still amazes me. Forgive me for sounding like a dinosaur.
In fact, cellphones were gigantic when I was a child. You probably would have used the thing as an actual weapon if you were a bully. I.e. throwing it at another kid’s head. They were the size of bricks, really, maybe not as heavy but just as big.
Scanned from a Grade five student's homework assignment.
Now, cellphones have shrunk to inconspicuously small proportions. Pocket size dimensions actually and the damage they’d deliver as a projectile doesn’t carry the same kind of punch.
But for bullies of the Digital age, these mini devices do provide an efficient weapon to wage a war of words or images against one’s chosen victim. In an instant, an embarrassing photo or derogatory slur can be posted on Facebook or Twitter or even a video uploaded unto YouTube.
The cyber world can then “comment” or “like” what you’ve said. If you’re a Google+ person, they can +1 it. If you’re a Twitter person, retweet. You can email the URL to multiple persons or text it straight from your smart phone and like that – it’s gone viral.
Back in the dial-up world, where your computer would connect via a landline and make that awful buzz zah sound – the bullies I knew, did their mean acts at school.
During recess they might throw words at you, even projectiles (not cellphones though) or, during class someone might pass a note scribbled with something mean on it. The audience however, was restricted to the people that were there.
Now, via technology, the audience is the cyber world at large.
CBC’s the National reported the story of David Knight whose classmates created a webpage devoted to making fun of him. Ghyslain Raza also garnered media attention as “The Star Wars” kid. When a video of Raza wielding a makeshift light saber went viral, he delved into depression, dropping out of school and finished his final year in a psychiatric ward for children.
Jesse Logan was 18 when she hung herself because her ex-boyfriend betrayed her and sent nude photos to other student’s who then made a habit of calling her names. Whore. Slut. Tyler Clementi, also 18, jumped off the Washington state bridge when his roommate streamed a video of him kissing another guy.
The list goes on. You can find timelines of children and teens who’ve ended their lives because they were bullied online.
Academia has even coined the phrase “cyberbullicide” to name the phenomenon of suicide by cyberbullying.
Talking with a friend and a mother of two about the phenomenon, she noted how when we were children, you would have all day to think about how you were going to phrase what you were going to say to someone. How you’d feel guilt because by saying it directly to a person, you could see tears form, the remorse for such meanness set in quick when you saw the hurt.
But with this kind of bullying, you don’t have to watch your victim react in the instant you commit the act. They can be at home or in a different classroom, even a different city or country for that matter.
Her 4 year old is fully capable of navigating through her iPhone. Unlocking it with a swipe, putting in the password, finding Angry Birds and playing for a time. Her 1 ½ year old also knows how to swipe and unlock.
Because children are so literate with these devices and because they learn at such at early age how to navigate through the cyber world, the education system is responding accordingly.
10-year-old Jasmine Provins, a Calgary Arts Academy student was kind enough to teach her mother and myself about iMessage on the iPod touch.
“No mom, it is not an app. It came with the update I downloaded.” Provins said while navigating to a text conversation to show me how it worked.
She also let me copy her homework to help me with mine. The article she was asked to read and reflect on was about cyberbullying.
That made me happy.