No longer able to withstand what I was looking at, my right hand quickly shot up to my face, shielding my already closed eyes from an image already seared into my mind. Still refusing to open my eyes, I fumbled around with my left hand, feeling for the laptop that use d to be my father’s, and immediately slamming it shut. “Gross,” I remember saying, prolonging the second half of the word in a half-whine, half-moan, so as to make my discomfort audibly apparent.
I was twelve years old and had just seen what the inside of a turtle’s mouth looked like. It took me months to eventually remove that ghastly image from the forefront of my mind, but to this day, the faint yet horrid imprint it left behind still lurks around in the deep catacombs of my subconscious, occasionally trekking the long and arduous journey to my consciousness and inviting itself into my thoughts and reveries without any hesitation or notice.
I remember I was at a sleepover, messing around and playing video games with friends that practically defined my childhood but ceased to play any role in my teenage years. The gruesome horrors inflicted upon my psyche by the interior of a turtle’s chops came from Reddit 50/50, a site where someone had a 50% chance of seeing something pleasant, and a 50% chance of seeing something not so pleasant.
Unfortunately, I cannot recall the exact, pleasant image I had a 50% chance of feasting my eyes upon, though I imagine it must’ve been an impressive trick shot. Regardless, my eye’s gaze was not met by a half-court basketball shot. Instead, they were subject to peering down the blacker than black void that was a turtle’s esophagus, its jaws characterized by a seemingly infinite amount of fleshy, saliva-glazed spikes known as papillae, their sickly, fleshy features thrown into pale relief by the camera’s flashlight.
As nauseating as this may sound, a turtle’s ingress is only the tip of the iceberg of hard-to-stomach, macabre, or simply inappropriate content that myself and countless others have been exposed to from a young age. With the rapid disintegration of my innocence came the drastic increase in my tolerance for disturbing online content.
In this sense, the internet has been both a blessing and curse for my generation. On one hand, it has opened up doors for global opportunity and connection, and supplies us with a seemingly endless amount of content and information (albeit some misinformed), something that wasn’t possible before.
On the other hand, endless exposure to endless content can be, to be blunt, bad. For example, the average age a child is exposed to online pornography has now reached ten and below, with 22% of all pornographic viewing comining from elementary school kid’s laptops. Platforms such as Reddit and Youtube provide a plethora of videos and posts documenting shootings, beheadings, animal and human torture, and other equally disturbing content, all uploaded for shock value and viewing pleasure. In the context of youth exposure, over 50% of kids ages eight to twelve consume Youtube content everyday, without any imposed restrictions.
These platforms claim to have robust content moderation measures put into place, and yet the constant influx of messed up content persists, and it is clearly increasing our tolerance to stomach such content, which in turn numbs our responses to real-world issues.
In a way, my generation can be seen as test dummies, as lab rats for the grand experiment that is the internet. Growing up with a phone in our hands seems natural, and it’s easy to forget how the internet is still very much in its infancy, and is very much untameable in that sense.
This leads to the root cause of the allowing of disturbing online content, and children’s early exposure to said content, which is novelty. The internet and the multitude of platforms that exist on it are still incredibly new, and there hasn’t been much time for humanity to properly assess the great speeds at which these platforms grow, and synthesize what educational measures need to be put in place to ensure online literacy, proper content moderation, and a reasonable age for exposure to such content.
This is something our parents need to be educated on, and something we need to be educated on. At what age and level of maturity should I be exposed to the less academic-oriented, more free-form side of the internet? How much time should our parents allot for us to explore this side of the internet? How do we as a collective navigate the global streams of online content, and decide which streams are safe to swim in, and which streams will pull us under? In short, how do we not become desensitized?