Last updated: June 24, 2011 - 8:33am
[Commentary] In 1900, Theodore Dreiser wrote “Sister Carrie,” about a young woman who left the farm and got mauled by the crushing forces of industrial America: the loneliness of urban life, the squalid conditions of the factory, the easy allure of the theater, the materialism of the new consumer culture. If Dreiser were around today, he might write about Kiki Ostrenga.
Kiki, who was the subject of a haunting profile by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in the April issue of Rolling Stone, was a young teenager who got mauled by the some of the worst forces of the information age. Lonely at school, she took refuge by creating an online persona, Kiki Kannibal, posting photos of herself with various hairstyles and looks. She is an extreme case of an enormous uncontrolled experiment that is playing out across the world.
Young people’s brains are developing while they are immersed in fast, multitasking technology. No one quite knows what effect this is having. The culture of childhood is being compressed. Those things that young people once knew at 18, they now know at 10 or 12. No one quite knows the effect of that either. Most important, some young people seem to be growing up without learning the distinction between respectability and attention. I doubt adults can really shelter young people from the things they will find online, but adults can provide the norms and values that will help them put that world in perspective, so it seems like trashy or amusing make-believe and not anything any decent person would want to be part of themselves. Kiki’s story is not only about what can happen online, but what doesn't happen off of it.
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