Ask.Fm: We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

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In 1982 I made my first trip to New York City. I recall the long drive into the Big Apple on a crisp fall morning – amazed with the immensity of the buildings and diversity of the neighborhoods, shops and street vendors. I saw people from seemingly every country walking the streets, riding bikes and hoping in and out of cabs and doing business along the curbsides of the Bronx.

I also saw children running through the streets unsupervised at 10:00am on a school morning – without an adult in view. How was it possible that anyone would allow those kids to roam the streets of such a busy metropolis unsupervised? As Dorothy said at the specter of the Emerald City… “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

I was dropped off at the Marriott in Times Square where I would be recording interviews for a video I was producing for my employer NCR. Following the video shoot, one of the crew suggested that I take a tour of 30 Rock, the legendary home of NBC Broadcasting. I was a student of the broadcast industry in those days. I read everything I could get my hands on related to broadcast technology and the men and women that helped to shape TV and Radio into the industry that it had become.

Some of my favorite TV shows had their start at NBC’s 30 Rock, including The Tonight Show, The Today Show, The Tomorrow Show, David Letterman’s Late Night and of course Saturday Night Live. All but The Tonight Show continued to be produced at 30 Rockefeller Plaza during that time. I couldn’t wait to walk the same halls as Tom Snyder, David Letterman, David Garroway, Tim Rossert, Dan Akroyd.

However, my biggest memory was while standing at the top of 30 Rock looking out over the complexity and miscellany of a city that possessed the best of the best — and the worst of the worst that mankind had to offer. The immensity of that city was far beyond what I could imagine. Its topography spanned well beyond my peripheral vision — forcing me to turn my head at least 180 degrees to fully see the entire city. I couldn’t help but wonder how those children I had seen the day before survived on this bustling, behemoth Island.

In 1993, I was working at Paradigm Communication Group. By then the broadcast industry was slowly converging with what we called “new media.” CD-Roms were on the rise for education and marketing, and the “world-wide-web” was finally becoming commercially viable. The video and broadcast industry were becoming more computerized – with video editing looking more like computer workstations rather than editing bays.

3D animation was a growing industry, leveraging the talents of graphic artists — who now required knowledge of UNIX-based computer towers to render small vectors and pixels into animated characters, buildings and other objects.

Technology was driving our industry and making its way into culture and education as well. By now Pixar was financially controlled by Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple. Movie making would never be the same again. And by 1999 we first heard the term Web 2.0 – a term popularized by Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media in 2004. Although the term seems benign – it defines web sites that allow users to interact and collaborate with each other through social media as creators of user-generated content within a virtual community.

That term Web 2.0 brings me back to the top of 30 Rock — that vision of the “complexity and miscellany of a city that possessed the best of the best — and the worst of the worst that mankind had to offer.” However, now we were not standing 70 stories above New York City. The promise of Web 2.0 was that we could have this same access from the comfort of our home. Web 2.0 and its capacity for social media networking offered users access to the world – while offering the world access to the user. Among adults – not a huge issue. However you place that access in the hands of children, it’s a recipe for disaster. The churn and growth of technology continued.

That said, most children in the early to mid 2000’s didn’t have cell phones with data plans and unlimited texting. Most homes still didn’t have wi-fi on every floor. Moreover, most smartphones were only used by business people requiring a Blackberry for emails while occasionally checking sport scores and stock prices.

Well… a lot has changed in the past 10 years. We’ve seen a litany of social media sites come and go — from sites like Friendster, Sharkle, My Space and others – to current robust networks such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr.

We’ve seen the introduction of the iPhone, iPad and Android devices which brought us apps rather than just web sites. Today you have Instagram, SnapChat, Poke, Oovoo, Google Translate and many others. All might be considered compelling – some even valuable.

Then there are apps such as is a Latvia-based social networking site and app launched in 2010. The network allows users to ask other users questions, with the quaint option of anonymity. Sounds simple enough. Why would I waste the digital ink this blog is written on to even mention it? Simply put – because it is the digital equivalent of a teen fraternity party — sans parents. Oh, I am certain there are adults there – but none that you would want supervising your next campout.

Kids have flocked from Facebook over the past few years because Facebook became the suburban track subdivision where Mom and Dad hang out for barbeques and bowling. Nothing breaks up a party faster than the shadow of Mom sneaking down the stairs asking “anyone want more Sprite.”

They’ve also ditched their carrier’s texting service for SnapChat so Mom can’t see the pictures and text messages.

Phone chats have been replaced by video chatting on FaceTime, OoVoo or Skype.

They’ve moved from the family’s Messenger service to the wi-fi based KIK app. If you hear a teen say, “Hey KIK me when you have a chance,” It’s not what you think. We’ll address these in another blog… but back to Ask.Fm. (Also see me blog titled: Yik Yak — Yuk>)

Imagine your 12 or 13 year-old daughter or son answering questions about sodomy, thongs, and the size of their genitals, etc. That’s Ask.Fm.

Imagine an anonymous person telling your daughter that she has a “nice fu@#ing ass and nice T@#s. That’s Ask.Fm.

Imagine your teenage daughter or son being told by an anonymous or non-anonymous cretin that he wants to “f@#k yer brains out.” That’s Ask.Fm.

Imagine you son our daughter being told they should “go kill yourself.”

That my friend is the world of

A world that anyone can freely view or comment about anything or anyone. If you know one child’s Ask.Fm “handle” it will lead you to a world of teen and adolescent banter that will in some cases turn your stomach. In my case, I can only tell you that I was profoundly sad.

Sad in that during a time of their life when innocence should still exit, it’s been replaced by a skewed view of sexuality, relationships, vulgarity and racial epitaphs – in many cases before these children are 13 years old.

While the site provides the conduit for such conversations, it forces nothing. It’s simply the digital malt shop, burger joint or shopping mall of today. It’s today’s youth culture. Sexual discussions, “selfies” and inappropriate photos and videos are just another recreation — just like “burning” a fellow student on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or
Although it is difficult to pin a suicide on any one app or website, you’ll find Ask.Fm in the crosshairs of many an investigation. Just Google the site name for a window into the issues the app has caused families such as this story link from the UK.

So many students freely give their phone numbers on the site – many times based on the request of an anonymous user. They also freely give their Instagram, Facebook, Kik, Twitter and emails addresses out – not realizing how that impacts their privacy. When a young man or woman gives that info on Ask.Fm, they are telling the world.

As parents and grandparents, we need to be vigilant about where and what our children are doing online. We must use the parental controls that our carriers provide – or that can be purchased through outside vendors.

We must know the passwords to their phones and know how to use the apps and features on those phones and devices.

We need to understand what a “data plan” actually means.

We need to understand that any device that can access a wi-fi connection, i.e., iPod Touch, Wii, Dsi, can also access any website and many apps.

Parents need to ask themselves whether their children really need their cell phones in their bedrooms or bathrooms.

Unsupervised children in any generation will eventually make mistakes. They’re children. It happens.

So it is no surprise that I recall my drive into New York City in 1982. However, the unsupervised children I saw in the streets have been replaced by the countless “selfies” of girls with puckered lips and shirtless boys looking for attention — wandering unsupervised through the ethers of social media platforms.

As a parent, grandparent, teacher, doctor or caring adult – spend 30 minutes tonight looking at Ask.Fm and you’ll realize , “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

NOTE: You may wish to access the Urban Dictionary to better understand some of the lingo being used on Ask.Fm and other apps/sites. .
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