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Now vs then – how communication has evolved
By Adele Abbiss, Online Safety Expert, Smoothwall
The 90s – oh what a time to be alive. Great (or not so great) music, funky hairstyles, denim overalls, the beloved Tamagotchi and who can forget the Spice Girls. When meeting up with your friends at the local park was arranged… using the house phone! Or if you were lucky it may have been via MSN - but that was often shared between your household members! Slower internet speeds and fewer devices per person meant online communication was often just a method to send the occasional email and browsing to find out information.
Consumption of huge amounts of content
Fast forward two decades and technology has come on leaps and bounds. Not only do we have incredibly quick internet speeds; it’s now wireless! Today it’s possible to consume huge amounts of content whenever and wherever. The way people communicate, especially the younger generation, has completely changed, but is it for the good or bad?
The internet is now very easily accessible and not just on a computer fixed in one place. It can be accessed almost anywhere on our mobiles, tablets, and laptops. Less than 20% of households had access to the internet in the 90’s. But if so, it would often be on a shared device – something I think most would be unhappy about in this day and age! The latest figures on internet usage shows 90% of British household’s today have internet access and nearly all households with children had an internet connection in 2017 (98%). Communication has changed massively from when I was younger. For children growing up today, this change plays a huge part in their lives.
As we all know, using technology to communicate every day is now the norm amongst adults and children. The vast amount of communication methods and social media platforms - extremely popular amongst children and teens - means we’re always online. It’s no longer like MSN - you don’t really sign in and out of social media accounts and certainly not text messages. Notifications on mobile devices, means we’re often reminded of the connection we have with the online world. There is no ’off-switch’. Sadly, this can pose a risk to anyone, and in particular, children.
Kids have access to a wide variety of communication platforms. Many will often be perceived as social and fun. However, there can also be a darker side to these platforms. Inappropriate and excessive use can threaten a child’s well-being, and now the government wants for social media companies to put restrictions in place. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, recently urged schools to confiscate pupil’s mobile phones at the start of the day - not just because they can be a distraction, but due to the potential exposure to cyber-bullying. Whether it’s an addiction from excessive use, threats from cyber bullies or online grooming, we need to work together to educate children about the potential dangers and provide the tools they need to stay protected.
We must all make an effort
The growth in communication methods means a vast amount of content is available at any given time. Therefore, preparing the future generation to safely and appropriately use this technology, must be top of the agenda. Tighter regulations on social media and tech companies are vital if we’re to confront the matter. But it must still be a collaborative effort! The government, educational institutions, parents, social media and tech companies, need to join forces and support one another. You may have seen the many demands for social media and tech companies to make a stand.WhatsApp made a bold move by increasing their age limit to 16, while Apple made it easier for us to regulate the time spent on apps. These changes are certainly a step in the right direction.
The recent call for the government to implement steps by putting pressure on social media companies is great. However, it still highlights the urge that we must all do our best to monitor children’s online behaviour, to keep them safe. The communication methods of today can be interactive, engaging and fun. Although, when used in the wrong way, it can damage an individual's emotional and physical wellbeing. It’s clear that as the way we communicate advances, so must the protective measures.