The World’s Biggest Magnifying Glass (and the fires it starts)

As a kid, do you remember the time you took a big old magnifying glass and used it to concentrate a beam of sunlight to try and start a fire?  More often than not, the object of your makeshift laser weapon – a dry leaf, a slip of paper, or, if you were really daring, an unlit match – would start to smoke a little, but to get it to light up took a lot of time and patience. Along the way you probably yelled “ouch” a time or two, as you stuck your own hand under the bright beam to see if it really was getting hot.  As a parent, you likely repeated this experiment with your own child one sunny afternoon when they reached that wonderful age of wonder and you came across that old magnifying glass that’s been in the drawer forever.  You used the simple rules of refraction to simultaneously teach your kid multiple lessons about science and safety.  About how something seemingly simple and accessible can also become something powerful and potentially dangerous.  It is a lesson we must continue to teach our kids today, because they are regularly using the world’s biggest magnifying glass.

The World’s Biggest Magnifying Glass: The Internet

While reading this article in the New York Times in their continuing series on Cyber Bullying, I was reminded that the real problem with the online world that is so increasingly intertwined with our kids’ evolving social lives is that they don’t understand that the Internet is not just a vast and easy information and communications platform for their giggles and gossip – it is in fact The World’s Biggest Magnifying Glass!  Forget Texas, everything is bigger on the Internet.  Everything is amplified on the Internet by the simple fact that once something is posted online it is at the same time so easy to spread and so hard to remove.  The dumb remark that would be quickly forgotten in the school yard of yesteryear is now instantly spread to hundreds, if not thousands of Facebook pages by the time a kid realizes, “gee, I probably shouldn’t have said that.”  There is no easy way to retract or redact, so childhood inexperience and innocent stupidity quickly becomes painful fact.  The Magnifying powers of the Internet can fuel more fires and burn more friends and relationships faster than any concentrated bit of sunlight ever could.

Magnify The Examples

The World’s Biggest Magnifying Glass is not partial and also amplifies good things too, making it easy and practical to share knowledge, and help others, and raise awareness for worthy causes.  With that in mind our goal is not necessarily to scare our kids off the Internet or restrict them to the point that they are also missing out on the many benefits of our connected world.  One way, perhaps, is to focus on the Magnifying Glass and teach kids that just as you can get burned by the glass in the drawer if you use it with the sun, so can you get burned by the Internet, if you let it magnify things that are better left in the drawer.  With my own three kids, I have tried to focus on the fact that this magnification means that they should assume that anything and everything they post online will be magnified to the point where it will be seen by their parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, employers and future employers.  Before saying anything online they should ask themselves if it is something they are comfortable with being seen by everyone in that magnified audience.

Do you agree?  How do you teach your kids to play safely with The World’s Biggest Magnifying Glass?

Jeff Sass is the proud dad of ZEO (Zach, 22, Ethan, 20 and Olivia, 19).  He is also a seasoned entertainment and technology exec and active social media enthusiast.  You can see more of Jeff’s writing at Sassholes! and Social Networking Rehab and you can listen to Jeff on the Cast of Dads podcast.?

Photo Credit: © Scott Maxwell – Fotolia.com

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4 thoughts on “The World’s Biggest Magnifying Glass (and the fires it starts)

  1. WTF is this bullshit!? I am a kid and I am searching internet for facts and knowaledge and I get this stuff? Seriously, I even didnt read the whole text, because I know, I will not get any knowaledge from this. Thanks for the 3 min waste of my precious time and so for lenghtening the time I have to spend on internet searching the size of actual biggest magnifying glass.

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