A NATION OF PARIS HILTONS

Images_5My friend, Giselle Bisson, the Bay Area writer and marketing maven, just sent me a great question:

“Would love to see you reflect on the impact of communities like My Space and how they are wreaking havoc on parents right now who are struggling with issues of trying to control what their kids are blogging, or even trying to "spy" on and monitor their kid's internet activity to protect them. Recently in Santa Cruz a man was arrested for molesting a minor who he seduced via My Space.”

Giselle’s concern is that of millions of parents – and that includes myself – with young kids who love to browse on the Internet. To answer her, let me quote Nick Carr’s response to my Weekly Standard piece. He says:

“As I've thought about the watery philosophy and the powerful technology that dovetail so neatly in Web 2.0, I've become fearful that we're building a machine that will, to great and general applause, destroy culture.”

Nick, this destruction of culture is already taking place. I’ve just finished Pornified: how Pornography is Changing our Lives, our Relationships and our Families, Pamela Paul’s horrifying exposure of pornography’s new ubiquity. The book should be required reading of all parents. Paul shows that online pornography has become so accessible and mainstream that hardcore porn stars are now regarded as cool and consuming pornography considered perfectly normal by many college and even high school kids.

Like it or not, our young men and women are coming of age in a pornified world in which digital images of hardcore acts of unimaginable vulgarity are a click away. These images are legal. And they are often free.

There is, of course, no more “watery” a philosophy than liberal permissiveness about pornography. And dovetailing this permissiveness with the “powerful” technology of the Internet has created a machine that, to quote Nick Carr, is indeed destroying our culture. Carr also concurs with me on digital narcissism:

“I sense it too. Behind every LCD a mirror. Beware of those who come with money and influence and pretty-sounding abstractions and who are utterly unaware that what they so joyfully seek to impose on the world is their own reckless banality.”

Behind every LCD a mirror. Unfortunately, that’s not just a metaphor. Today, our powerful technology, our moral relativism and our narcissism have resulted in a digital culture of pornographic self-exposure. Take highly trafficked sites like voyeurweb, projectvoyeur and privatevoyeur, which provide pornographic self portaits of thousands of ordinary woman (aka: amateur sex stars), “self-published” by our mothers, girlfriends, daughters and wives.

These pornography sites represent the Web 2.0 self-publishing platform ideal. They are democratic, rich in user-generated content, easy-to-use and free-to-the-public. No doubt Voyeurweb, Projectvoyeur and Privatevoyeur have been built using all the latest open source tools. They are sparkling paragons of the Web 2.0 revolution. And they are destroying our culture.

In terms of Giselle Bisson’s question about My Space, I am less concerned with illegal than with legal activities. I think the pornification of our digital culture has proceeded with such speed that it is inevitable that teenagers using social networking portals like My Space will themselves be seduced by the sexual narcissism of our digital culture. After all, if your mother or grandmother is stripping off on Voyeurweb, then wouldn’t it be quite natural for a teenage girl to at least put a sexually suggestive home page together on My Space?

Where does all this stop? If such reckless banality becomes the norm, then what becomes the next cherished belief to be smashed? Soon there won’t be anything left to destroy. Our culture will have been completely pornified. We will have become a nation of Paris Hiltons.

Close your eyes. Behind each LCD a mirror. now open them again and look into that LCD. What you see is our society. And it isn't a pretty sight.

Before you accuse me of being a digital Bin Laden, read Pornified and check out sites like Voyeurweb. Then tell me I’m exaggerating the threat that pornography represents to our culture. Then tell me too that we don’t need much more morally fundamentalist legislation against online pornography.