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Monday, March 24, 2008

Digg Addiction? A Father Fears Porn, Discovers Digg

By M.B.Darden

A friend of mine has a 16-year-old kid. Smart as hell, a near math-genius, hasn’t assaulted or murdered anyone to my friend’s knowledge. But, come to think of it, not exactly sociable, more withdrawn than he used to be. Depressed? In need of support, help? Not sure. He lives sometimes with his mother but mostly with my friend, his somewhat distracted but fundamentally caring dad.

Recently there was a big meeting at the high school, calling in parents to discuss one of the trendy problems of the day: Kids’ absorption with (even addiction to) the internet. Turns out a lot of the kids were tapping into porn sites, texting photos and other stuff, sometimes harassing classmates and spending a sh*t-load of time doing it. And if it wasn’t porn it was “too” (whatever that means) intense gaming, etc. The school recommended that parents who don’t know what their kids are up to online find out. We don’t want another Columbine now, do we?

So, my friend the Dad did. After failing to get his kid to talk to him about what he was spending his time on – his grades were good and the kid’s view was essentially, what difference does it make what I do, it’s my life, bug off, yo…Dad checked things out on his own. His kid apparently wasn’t too worried about his privacy, because he left his computer open all the time. So, after ruminating over it for a while – it’s so wrong to do this, my friend thought; but it’s in my kid’s interest, right?, that’s what everybody’s saying -- he got into the kid’s computer. This is what he learned: No porn, no massive use of video games (some but not huge amounts), no anti-social, violent, disaffected tendencies, no cookied or stored how-to-blow-up-things websites -- great relief! -- but massive amounts of use of this website called, Digg.

What the f**k is Digg, my friend wanted to know? And why is my kid spending hours on it a day?

Turns out he was spending hours on Digg as well as a bunch of other sites, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Mixx, etc. But Digg was the biggest time drain.

My friend confronted his kid who, after angrily challenging his dad’s invasion of his privacy -- guilty, his father said, really guilty, I’m sorry -- actually engaged, according to my friend. Or, more accurately, he invited his father to check out for himself what he was doing. My friend did.

The kid was reading and “digging” articles on subjects all over the place – from new theories on molecular chemistry, astronomy to nutty pics of animals superimposed onto the faces of corrupt politicians. It seemed relatively harmless actually compared to the possibilities. In fact, just for research purposes of course, my friend started checking things out on Digg himself, on his own, just to keep up with what his son was up to.

It was interesting, my friend said. And he continued checking things out -- later; now actually -- because yea, he admits it, he likes it. He doesn’t do it too much, he says. Maybe an hour a day. Well, maybe a couple hours a day. But not much more than that. Except when he’s at the office where, what do you expect him to do, stop doing stuff online?

Before, it was reading ESPN, SI, NFL, Rivals.com, etc. compulsively, checking every minute for the next update of who the Giants are likely to select on draft day. (Surprise, the same person they were likely to select a couple minutes, hours, days ago.) So, yea, he’s doing it a lot, he guesses. But it’s not like he’s registered on Digg. No way. Or posted or “Dugg” anything. But what if he did or does, so what? You wouldn’t believe all the stuff there on computers & gadgetry, gaming, politics – hell, even the sports posts aren’t so bad and include sh*t on sports minutia you wouldn’t believe. It’s really pretty cool.

Something else. There’s crazy over-the-top drama on Digg. People threatening to walk out (protest, riot, invade?) because Digg changed its algorithms (a term my friend probably hadn’t heard of until now, after going over it with his son). “Power Digg Users” were pissed because it was harder for them to retain their power, according to some Diggers. Or, if you listen to others, they were pissed because the changes rewarded drek and didn’t value those Digg users who took it seriously and helped build the site.

Whatever. It’s like some monarchal hierarchical structure being changed, threatened regularly and everybody’s confused, challenged, vulnerable. People are being kicked off Digg – not sure by whom or why, he says. Or for how long or where they go. But lots of people are unhappy about it – that is, if they’re not happy about it. Because one of the fun wack things going on, he says, is that there’s never something that pisses off people that doesn’t at the same time please some other people. It’s great, he says. And these people, on all sides of whatever issues come up, love to write and rant about it and many are truly great at it; they don’t even realize how great, their color and passion and unfiltered sometimes hard to fathom righteous rage.

You had – you have – some users constantly screaming at other users. Everybody’s a dumbass or a moron or the absolutely perfect deserving target of some withering rebuke. Some idiot posts something that appeared on Digg 6 months or years ago, and somebody out there is going to ream that guy a new hole. You misspell something in the title or body of your post…Christ, you might as well have attacked the core of a person’s being; you’re going to get smacked.

All that, the seemingly unvarnished, freely expressed passion, my friend says, is terrific. His son reminds him that a lot of those comments are hyperbole, meant to inflame, not to be taken seriously. Also, the flamers represent a very small percentage of Digg users most of whom don’t comment at all.

Still the action is a hell of a lot more interesting than watching the crap that passes for most TV these days. Plus a lot of these people are smart, my friend says. So what if they use the forum to vent and rage; it probably releases stuff that makes them more balanced in their real lives.

My friend’s son, with whom he’s felt tense for the last couple years since a bitter divorce from his mother, now laughs at his dad. What started as a derisive, you’re such a pathetic moron type laugh now seems increasingly to be almost…not necessarily affectionate but intrigued, surprised (pleasantly).

The kid says his dad is doing it -- Digg, but also some of the other sites like Reddit, whatever -- too much. He actually told his dad he needs to take more breaks. And my friend agrees, but he’s slow at work, so stop bugging him about it, he says. He doesn’t go out to movies as much and he seems to have dropped out of his regular tennis game – but that’s only because he’s tired of those things right now, temporarily; he’ll be back, he says.

He told me the other day that when he sees articles written in the NY Times or Variety or Sports Illustrated, anywhere, he almost immediately thinks, that would be great for Digg, or maybe not Digg, maybe Newsvine or Reddit. No, Mixx. And he thinks, why doesn’t he register and post them. He should. He hasn’t yet (he says), but it sounds like he’s moving in that direction.

Turns out his son now is spending less time on Digg, it seems. He’s got a girl friend and he’s also thinking about playing lacrosse this season. (He’s damn good apparently and it always bugged his dad that he seemed to blow off the sport mainly so he could spend more time on the computer.)

The kid has actually reached out to me, asking if I think his father is OK, with all this new online stuff. I told him I don’t know but, yea, I think he probably is but it wouldn’t be a bad idea maybe to “crash” the computer once in a while (or do something that actually makes sense, if “crash” isn’t it….some kind of periodic “time out” of sorts).

But my friend continues on. He now sends me, and apparently 100s of others, links to tons of Digg posts a week. Yea, some are good, amusing, insightful. But some of us really are starting to worry about him. What the f**k is he sending us a piece on near-microscopic insects for…or kelp (do I need to learn what kelp is?; I had thought it was a fish)…or animals that are smarter than 90% of humans (he thought I didn’t know that?). Or, the surprising heath benefits of watching ants walk (that might’ve been from Reddit, not sure). He is a bit older than I am and it’s like the guy just learned about the internet, he’s so excited. But I’ve got a life too and can’t read 5% of what he’s sending me.

Apparently there’s another meeting at the high school soon, a follow up to the earlier one about students’ internet obsessions. My friend says he’s thrilled that his son is fine, in fact he can’t even get him to join him on Digg anymore and he’s somehow blocked his Dad’s messages or “shouts” (apparently he has now registered on Digg), which is not cool, my friend says. In fact, he’s thinking of sitting his son down and talking to him about it.

Of course what’s also not cool, my friend says, are the people who keep “shouting” him garbage but never look at his posts, or the fools who try to game the site somehow; they’re so obvious, he says.

I half want to encourage him to go to the school meeting anyway, for himself. But a part of that half worries that if he does go he’ll learn about another hot, interesting online activity and add that to his mixx. The other day he asked me about Facebook and My Space – he’s heard they’re “pretty cool,” and some of his Digg friends are encouraging him to join them there. He also said he’s put me on his emailing list and some feeds through which I’ll supposedly get a lot more stuff regularly. Plus, I should consider registering on his new blog he’s thinking of putting together.

I told him, thanks, I’ll look into it. He said, cool, and don’t worry. I nodded. He looked at me straight and said, again: really don’t worry. I know what you’re thinking. OK? Don’t worry.

I laughed. He looked good, actually. High energy, engaged. I nodded (again). He told me I might be interested in this new piece he’s writing, on “social networking trolls”; they can be a serious problem these days for some, he says.

Actually he’s a hell of a writer. Novels, screenplays. He’s been bored. His kid’s filled in some spaces. But the kid doesn’t need so much anymore. Who knows, maybe he’s found something.

I told him to send me the piece on social networking. He did, along with 20 others on various subjects, sending my in-box into overload.

I looked up spam filters and address blocking software online. Turns out (according to a friend of mine who isn’t an internet-illiterate like I am) I can block his stuff without his knowing; I might even be able to pre-filter the subjects of email I receive from him. E.g., screen out emails about insects and the space shuttle and Reverend Wright but receive all posts on the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox. Of course…maybe I should check out Digg myself more, like my friend says…just to see what all his excitement is about. For research purposes only, of course. A limited basis.

On the other hand…no. Probably not. I definitely won’t. Unless…things get a little slower with me, ease up at work, or…I really feel like it. Then, maybe, why not. I don’t have a 16-year-old son. But what’s so bad about getting stuff on the Twins and Red Sox myself, faster, when I want it. There can’t be too much there on those subjects…And if there is, you make priorities, what’s the big deal…I do it all the time, yea, no big deal.


M.B.Darden has written for numerous magazines and newspapers (some of which you have heard of). He has had more jobs in the media & entertainment & financial industries than he can remember (i.e., he's been fired a lot, but then often inexplicably rehired). He lives in the burbs somewhere in the Northeast, with his family and, he says, within 30 minutes of 14 shopping malls.

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