The internet has transformed the way we live, hasn’t it? Well, some of us anyway.
I know youngsters who can’t imagine a time when we didn’t have information at our fingertips, just the click of a mouse away – or more accurately, the push of a button on a smart phone.
We can buy stuff, sell stuff, learn things from how to play guitar to how to change the oil filter in a particular make and model of car. We tell the world how we’re feeling, show photos of a great night out, find directions from here to there, listen to music, radio stations, watch movies, catch up on TV shows we’ve missed. I could go on but we all know its power.
Younger generations are so familiar with technology we call them ‘digital natives’. My niece has a toddler who’s a year and a half old and could operate an iPad before she could walk.
One toddler app she was particularly fond of had bright shiny pictures of animals. She will grow up accepting the internet in the same way as I took television for granted - it was just always there. But while TV broadcasting is regulated to make sure we are protected, the internet remains wide open to everyone, whether their intentions are harmless or sinister.
So now there’s a potential game changer – an app called Periscope, linked to Twitter. It allows anyone to ‘live stream’ video and sound while other users all over the world can communicate with them by sending messages.
Periscope is very new, just over a month old, and already people have streamed live pictures of news events before a TV camera even gets close to film the action.
In the same way I have spent – and wasted – hours looking at videos of cute cats, people falling over or doing ice bucket challenges, this week I’ve been fascinated through brief interactions with people in all sorts of places, all sorts of situations, using Periscope.
Like the dreadlocked Pastor in Oklahoma City, USA, who talked to me (and several dozen others around the world) as he got a tattoo inked on his arm. I sent him a message: “Does it hurt?” “Yeah, it hurts a lot” he said, just a second later.
I clicked on a link from San Francisco where a couple were just leaving their home to take their dog for a walk in the park. “Hello from Northern Ireland” I messaged.
They got excited at that. “Oh, hey, we love you guys in Ireland” they chirped, before chatting about the scenery on their walk.
Later, there was a live feed from a bar room somewhere on the west coast of America where two fairly inebriated guys sat at a table, drinking beer, slurring slightly.
The message from a Periscope viewer: “Go on, drink that pint.”
Two seconds later, one of the guys said “Hey, someone says you gotta drink your beer.” His friend necked the pint.
A seemingly harmless exchange between grown adults, and you can quote all the arguments about people being free to choose and being responsible for their own actions and all that, but wow – the capacity for danger is immense when you think what viewing our children could be exposed to and just who could be talking to them. Entertaining as it is, Periscope could be a parent’s nightmare – we need to be aware of its potential.