Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Reflections on a dull Wednesday

What do you do on a dull day in November? You head off for Oldham market, of course, to get your boots heeled, to buy light bulbs, to look for impossible colours of wool following a knitting request from your daughter, and to pick up a range of odds and ends from Boots the Chemist!

The lightbulbs were, in the first place because the under-the-cupboard lighting in the kitchen is all failing in one section after the other, and secondly because we have grown weary of dim rooms lit by energy-saving bulbs. The lightbulb stall man agreed with me that it is hard to tell the wattage of the ubiquitous energy-saving bulbs and that it is even harder to get hold of the old-fashioned kind. Fortunately he had some in stock but he was doing the high-pressure sell; if I went away to think about it, he warned me, and came back tomorrow, he might not have them any longer. So I bought some bulbs!

Having achieved all my objectives, I caught the bus home. Somewhere along the route the bus was invaded by a group of schoolchildren. There was a surprising amount of moaning and groaning from the people sitting near me. Considering that the kids refused to move down the bus but all bunched together near the doors, talking loudly and over-excitedly and blocking the way for anyone who wanted to get off the bus, this was not surprising really.

I recognised the badge on their blazers; it had the Aim High logo of our local high school. The school is located in the main Saddleworth village, Uppermill. So what were they doing catching a bus from just outside Oldham centre? Going back to school for something they had forgotten? Going to school early for tomorrow? It turned out that they finish early on a Wednesday and had made a group excursion to the MacDonald's just outside the town centre. Now they were mostly headed for another bit of Oldham where they planned to go to "The Cliff", an old quarry. Why are thirteen year olds attracted to such an evidently dangerous place - one of them was describing quite graphically how a friend had broken a leg there! And what a busy after-school life these youngsters have! Clearly they do not get enough homework!

Almost every one of them was equipped with an iPhone. They were comparing apps and photos. Is this the case in other countries? I wonder! When I got home I came across an item in the news about cyberbullying, sexting and other aspects of online life that cause teenagers misery. Apparently Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, believes that this can all be if the phone companies ban these activities. He says, “There is a lot of evidence that the technology industry, if they put their mind to it, can do really smart things.” and asks himself “why it is that you can’t prevent the texting of sexually explicit images by people under the age of 18” and “why we can’t identify cyberbullying when it happens on social media platforms by word pattern recognition, and then prevent it”.

The writer of the article says, rather scornfully, that technology doesn't work like that. The kind of scrambling of an image that takes place when a photo is sent means that you can't tell whether the photo is sexting or cyberbullying or just plain harmless until it arrives. Education programmes are what we need!

Quite so!

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