Episode  MSP72  Kids For Sale: Kids, Parents And The Burnout Generation.
Episode  MSP72  Kids For Sale: Kids, Parents And The Burnout Generation.
While parents worry about self-harming memes like Momo, are their own actions creating a generation of kids destined to self-destruct?
Produced by Richard Bradbury
These shows are dictated to and transcribed by machines, and hurriedly edited by a human. Apologies for the typos and grammar flaws.
We seem to be living in a world of oversharing extremes. On the one hand Apple Martin publicly criticizes her mother Gwyneth Paltrow for sharing photos of her without consent and on the other the matriarch of a popular YouTube channel is currently facing allegations that she pepper-sprayed her kids for messing up their lines.
But it’s not just about how we treat kids in a digital world. As the Millennial generation edges towards its 30s, what’s happening to the kids in the generations that follow.
Here to tell us how to pull our socks up and stop being silly billys, is MSP’s Matt Armitage.
Let’s clear something up from the start: is this show intended as a How To guide for exploiting your children?
· I know that I seem to get cast as an AI-toting, modern-day Fagin figure but no.
· There is enough child exploitation – of tremendously varying degrees – going on without me adding to it.
· Of course, my popular online course, how to make money off your weak-minded kids, is available for only 99.99 in the currency of your choice on the Kulturpop website.
Yes. Someone who bought it said it contained four hours of nothing but you laughing.
· It’s a theme that runs through most of Kulturpop’s online courses.
· Get rich with Crypto-Currency is especially popular.
· And it’s true. My course on crypto currency is making me rich.
· But I have my social responsibility hat on today.
· And there’s quite a lot of ground to cover.
We’re looking at deliberate exploitation?
· That’s one aspect.
· There are the online scares and memes, there’s innocent oversharing and there’s also the emergence of Gen Z as the so-called burnout generation.
· So, we’re really looking at the whole cause and effect cycle.
Do you think we’re still obsessed with Millennials?
· Yeah, which is really weird. I discussed this with Jeff on a previous show.
· The last Millennials were born in 1994. The oldest Millennials are now 39.
· We’ll be changing their title to Middlennials soon.
· If you’re 25 or older then you’re not a Millennial, you’re a Digital Native.
· And, the last Digital Natives have been born.
· Anyone born after 2013 or so is characterised as Gen Alpha.
· So when we talk about the exploitation side of this, it’s Gen Z and Alpha we’re talking about.
· And, very often, the ones who should know better, the parents who were brought up in the shadow of the digital revolution are Millennials themselves.
So, they really should know better?
· In a sense. But that’s why I think we’re seeing so much of a backlash against social media companies.
· Not so much in terms of the privacy and the fake news: I think those are very much Gen X and gen Y preoccupations.
· It seems that Gen Z, the digital natives, are responding in a much more visceral way.
· By not signing up in the first place.
· And for all the shouting and foot-stamping that we do, that lack of engagement is far more worrying for these big companies than our transient temper tantrums.
We’ll Goop with Gwyneth in a bit. This is a story that came out in March. A mother in Arizona was arrested for abusing relating to some of her seven adoptive children, many of whom were helping to front a popular YouTube Channel called Fantastic Adventures.
· Yeah. So we’ve reported before and I think most people are aware that YouTube’s most popular – and highest earning channel – belongs to a seven year boy.
· Ryan Toysreview. Now, this has nothing to do with the abuse story I want to make clear.
· Ryan’s parents, who film his clips, seem to be responsible people.
· I’m using the example to give some context to Fantastic Adventures channel.
Because this is really big business, isn’t it?
· Forbes reported that Ryan earned around USD22m in 2018.
· And while Fantastic Adventures wasn’t in Ryan’s league, the channel had racked up more than 250m views of its videos.
· The kids would appear in videos that made it all look fun, having pie and water fights.
· But a welfare check found a darker picture.
· Kids being denied food and water.
· Being locked in closets. Being beaten. Even pepper sprayed.
· For transgressions as small as forgetting their lines for the videos.
Is there any regulation of this sector?
· Remarkably little. Especially as a lot of it flies under the radar.
· If a child is working on a film or TV set then, in many countries there are labour laws that limit how much time they can work.
· How many hours of education they have to have.
· And of course, there are the general child labour laws.
· These videos and channels muddy that line between work and play.
· Are parents filming their kids doing something they love and sharing the results with the world?
· Or are they staging scenarios and turning the kid into a work horse.
· Obviously, both instances exist.
And it’s a lot more diverse than people think, isn’t it?
· Yes. There are kids playing with toys.
· There are the twitch type gaming videos.
· Kids cooking food.
· There’s even a subsection of the mukbang genre which is videos of kids eating junk food.
You might want to explain mukbang to listeners who aren’t already in the know.
· Mukbang is a Korean trend.
· It means eating broadcast and it has been around for 10 years.
· It originally started with adults eating large quantities of food.
· Leading Korean mukbang stars were earning anything up to USD10k a month.
· Some psychologists put their popularity in Korea as a sign of the growing loneliness in countries like Korea and Japan that has become more common amongst digital generations.
· That people watch the videos as they eat, to simulate eating with other people.
That’s pretty bleak.
· The whole concept of watching other people eat is pretty bleak.
· But for some reason, the trend crossed over to the West about a year ago and mukbang videos are now a thing.
· A growing subsection is in kids watching other kids eat junk food.
· And that’s leading to all kinds of health campaigners saying, oi, this is maybe not cool.
· For one, you have kids performing by eating unhealthy foods, and it’s being watched by kids at home, who are then being tacitly encouraged to eat those kinds of foods.
Can you understand the attraction?
· It’s not something that works for me. But, like any trend, there are different kinds of mukbang.
· Some people watch because it’s an intimate look inside a family, so they might watch videos that are more of a dinner table chat.
· Others are interested in the more extreme angle: food challenges and the like.
Is this something the food industry is promoting?
· You might expect it to be.
· But the ff industry has been under tremendous global pressure to offer more healthy alternatives and change the way they advertise and market.
· Especially to children.
· So the impetus isn’t coming from them. Quite the opposite, I think they keep a deliberate distance.
· But that doesn’t mean there isn’t good money to be made. Obviously, the revenue sharing from YouTube once you start posting regular, high traffic content.
But there are other sponsors?
· Of course. I watched one of the leading US mukbang channels, called Eating with the Candoos.
· The Candoos family post a mixture of videos. Family dinners, kids eating, parent eating.
· One of the posts I watched was sponsored by a company selling air fryers.
· The healthier approach to junk food, I guess.
What about hidden content? The Momo meme that has been floating around for the last couple of months?
· The Momo thing was basically a hoax. The idea that a demonic face was hidden in videos, encouraging kids to self-harm or kill themselves.
· But there have been plenty of instances of kids content being posted and then hijacked with extremely violent or sexually suggestive material.
· You’ll be unsurprised to find that the content algorithms a lot of streaming and tube services use are unable to distinguish that well.
· Because they aren’t smart. So even when you have your parental locks engaged, or you’ve downloaded the kid-friendly version of an app, there’s no guarantee that unsuitable content won’t slip through.
How is that being addressed by regulators?
· Generally very poorly.
· As we demonstrated on Geeks last week with Australia’s legislation that could enable blanket convictions of Facebook employees for allowing unsuitable content on their platform.
· As you know, I’ve generally come down largely on the side of the providers.
· With millions of pieces of content being uploaded every day, the task of screening it all is enormous.
· We could address, for example, by giving Facebook, Insta, Twitter or whoever, a couple of weeks to screen and approve our posts.
· But we don’t want that either. So, we ask them to do something that’s impossible.
But surely they should try and protect all their users, especially the youngest and most vulnerable?
· This is where there are provisos.
· If you sit your kid down in front of regular, adult Youtube, especially if it’s been logged into with your regular, adult member details then you have to expect content suitable for adults to be served up to your kids.
· The social media and streaming companies do have to work harder on all manner of privacy and content related issues.
· Including the way that ads target and get served to those more vulnerable groups.
· However, if you have a version of your service that you say is for kids, and you market that service for that constituency, then it’s no longer okay to say watch at your own risk.
· In the same way that it’s not cool to sell toys with lead or toxic materials in them.
· When you decided you want to be in the game of selling to kids, then you’ve got to back it up with more than words and a slippery set of T&Cs.
When we come back. Oversharing and meltdowns. Whose, we’re yet to discover.
Before the break we were talking about the exploitation of children for financial gain. We looked at some of the more extreme examples, and some of the stranger, and potentially more benign.
· And let’s not forget that for some social media families it’s actually a parenting decision, weird as it sounds.
· That earned income can allow one or both parents to get off the treadmill.
· Some parents with successful channels have said that it has transformed their lives because they get to spend all their time at home, with their kids.
· It’s kind of tricky.
So far, we’ve only talked about the here and now. Do we have any idea of what the longer-term implications are for kids who live in the shadow of oversharing parents?
· As we mentioned earlier, they aren’t signing up for these sharing services in the same way that previous generations were.
· We’ve discussed plenty of times the way they are curating feeds like Instagram but keeping the ‘real’ stuff for private messaging apps like WA and all its competitors.
Do you think that’s one of the reasons that Facebook is trying to unify its social media, Instagram and WA arms?
· Most of the speculation we’ve heard is more from an anti-trust standpoint.
· That integrating the platforms more closely would make it difficult or practically impossible to break back into separate companies should lawmakers decide that the company has too big a market share or that competition is being hampered.
· But I don’t think it will harm them.
· Don’t forget. Unifying the messaging systems of these platforms should give them the protection of cutting edge encryption.
· But I doubt it will have escaped the attention of senior management that this is still a way for them to find ways to monetise a generation that is turning its back on their core services.
We do have that story about Apple Martin and her mum…
· For sure. It’s a shame that we only discuss this when famous people and their progeny shine a light on it.
· And the same goes for the YouTube child stars we were talking about before the break.
· Who knows what those kids are going to think about that in later life.
· Content doesn’t go away.
· I thought nylon underwear with Batman on were the bomb when I was a kid.
· I’m still ok with the Batman thing, but I know that nylon underwear simultaneously leads to sparks and fungi.
· And I’m not that much a fun guy.
In a sense it’s uncharted territory?
· Which is why this generation, the Zs is classed as digital natives.
· Nothing like them has existed before.
· Everyone before them has been more closely related to the lifestyle of cavemen than theirs.
· I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the point.
What seem to be the indicators?
· At the start of the year there was a flurry of articles about Influencers having breakdowns.
· Most of the current crop of social media influencers are firmly in the Gen Z camp.
· Those child YT stars might even be Gen Alpha.
· And of course, at the ageing influencer end, there are some of the younger Millennials.
What does that make you?
· An old blowhard facing the cobbled wall of mortality with the gale force winds of infirmity blowing hard on my heels.
· In fact some social scientists are arguing that we abandon these broader generational categorisations.
· For example, a 38 year old Millennial will probably have more in common with you or even me, in terms of society and cultural influences, than they will with a 25 year old Millennial, whose outlook will be more closely shared with Digital Natives.
· And those self-same Millennials are now giving birth to the Gen Alphas.
· Those broad categorisations are fine in societies where the pace of change is slow and gradual.
· Right now we’re in an accelerated period – we may not remain in one – and so it may be more useful to look at micro-generations instead.
Without wanting to reinforce any of the stereotypes – like avocado toast loving, work shy self-promoters – are any of those stereotypes true?
· No. It does seem that there are some more scientifically based differences.
· Obviously it depends on where in the world you’re brought up but there is evidence that these generations reflect the more diverse world they were brought up in.
· Many countries are becoming less culturally and racially homogenous.
· I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but this could be one of the reasons that younger generations are much more liberal when it comes to race and sexuality.
· A Sydney based market research firm called McCrindle has put forward the theory that Gen’s Y through Z are more likely to define themselves sociologically than biologically.
· That is, their tribe is people who think like them rather than look like them.
Which could make them at once more inclusive and more insular?
· The big issue is that generational differences are more observation than science.
· And that gives rise to truisms and pigeonholing.
· We joke that the Baby Boomer generation was a little too fond of their free love and special sandwiches.
· There’s the irony: The first generation to experience a dedicated youth culture is now the one chanting build the wall and voting for Brexit.
· So any so called rules you come up with about generations are destined to fall.
Certainly we’re told that Gen Y and Gen Z have inflated expectations and very little loyalty in the workplace.
· And that’s where we come back to that idea of sociology versus biology.
· These are generations that are told not to expect a job for life.
· Or an uninterrupted career.
· They grew up with speed. They know technology can create jobs and eradicate them just as quickly.
· I doubt you’ll find any of the 20 somethings currently driving Uber imagining that this is their job for life.
Because they expect they’ll get something better?
· Because they know that Uber wants to put a machine in their place.
· They treat jobs as temporary because they are.
· When you’ve watched MySpace go from one of the world’s biggest companies to a penniless irrelevance in the space of your teens, why would you assume any company would survive longer than the media’s attention span?
· So, of course, they want to maximise their time at a company, whether it’s in their role or their salary.
I think you’ve mentioned before that there’s anecdotal evidence that this generation will actually take a pay cut to get a better job title or position…
· Yes. And it might be counter-intuitive to anyone who is looking to carve a career path in a particular company or industry, where a promtion gets you a better salary.
· it makes perfect sense if you think your time at a particular company is going to be short
· You want to make your CV look as action-packed as possible.
· Because you’re always looking to the next leap, and how to cushion your fall as effectively.
Surely, some companies must exploit that?
· Of course, career progression and wage growth is how they keep us quiet and servile.
· This allows them to go a stage further, to salary costs down by employing dozens of interns with titles like Chief Beverage Officer.
What about the argument that this is Generation Burnout?
· There was a much talked about Buzzfeed article that came out in January I think.
· I’ve put the links to as much of today’s source material as I could remember in the show notes, so you can find that at Kulturpop.com.
· And I guess that comes back around to where we mentioned Apple Martin.
· I do feel bad for this generation and its names.
· For years I’ve been trying to get friends to name their kids things like flange and sprocket.
· They tell I’m being ridiculous and then name them stuff like pudding and moccasin.
· My own nephew is called Ripley because on his first ultrasound he looked like Ripley’s gestating baby in the Alien franchise.
· At least mine is obviously both a joke and an insult. Their choices, Ripley aside, are simply soul crushing.
· Did I just go off on a rant again?
· Yeah, so the piece was written by Anne Helen Petersen at Buzzfeednews.
· A lot of what she says is true.
· We’ve trained Gen Y, Gen Z to work from an early age.
· Extra tuition to get you into a better university.
· Planned and structured playdates.
· You look at the weekend schedule for most families with young kids and it’s insane.
· Dance classes. Sports. Everything is pressured and goal oriented.
· You can’t have fun in a swimming pool unless you’re breaking
Whereas for us it was more about, let’s go hang out somewhere on Saturday and see what happens?
· If my mum is listening to this – I apologise – but you had absolutely no idea where we were as kids.
· And neither did any of our friends parents.
· I had the luxury of growing up in the countryside, in a part of the UK that was very very safe.
· I remember one day, we were probably about 10, we all thought we’d be able to cycle to the next town King’s Lynn about 20km away along a busy single lane highway with no emergency lane crammed with lorries and farm traffic.
Did you get there?
· Of course not. We were on three speed Raleigh Grifters and things that weighted about 30kg apiece.
· But we made it halfway and toured back leisurely along the backroads through some of the surrounding villages.
· All our parents thought we were at someone else’s house.
· Not because we were lying. You’d go to that house. Pick up your friend.
· Go get another friend etc. And once you got bored of the playing field you’d look for something more exciting to do.
· No mobile phones. Just goodbye after breakfast and don’t be late for tea.
And we’ve lost that?
· I think so.
· We’ve replaced it with structure and stress.
· Look at smartphones and social media.
· A generation that never dares to dress for Sunday in case they have to jump into someone else’s Insta shot.
· Always on call. Always on. Always working or performing.
· And the irony is we call these people snowflakes. Lazy. Dissolute.
· These same people who are turning traditional politics on its head.
· Who are passionate about campaigning for the environment, injustice and scores of other things they care about.
· We’re the lethargic, cynically dispassionate ones.
· This is their brave new world, and old codgers like us have to get out of their way and respect that.