To teach Internet security to children can be very tricky.
The following comic books are typical of a strict enforcement of century-old rules in the USA: “Do not speak to strangers.” “Do not accept anything from strangers.” This approach here, particularly in the first volume, is sexist (for boys only), and color-blind, which means racist, still again in the first volume only. The second volume corrects this sexism with two females, one positive, the other negative, just like the men, and the afore-mentioned racism with a black woman on the good side with a Latino name. But the second volume centers on a trinity of good agents who are a slightly modified version of the Christian Trinity, hence something that cannot speak the same way to everyone and is intended to speak to Christian children.
But the worst shortcoming is the vision of cyberwar in cyberspace as nothing but a new Cold War that opposes the good Americans to all the bad ones outside this American pale. To thus train and knead children’s minds into believing that everyone outside one’s small certified friendly circle is bad and evil is the worst possible service rendered to the world, history, civilization. The result is in the making: The Internet is becoming more and more shattered by such imperialism from the narrow-minded circle of those in America who believe they are the only ones who are right, just, good, angelic and of course stable and genial.
There is a lot more to do in that direction to bring the younger — and why not the older — generations to a full commitment to and understanding of human civilization based on human values: open-mindedness, empathy, love, diversity and equanimity.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
THE CYNJA VOLUME 1 — CHASE CUNNINGHAM — HEATHER C. DAHL — SHIROW DI ROSSO, illustrator — © 2013
This small comic book is written for young children who are starting to use the Internet and the object, target and ambition are to teach them about security and insecurity on the Internet. This first volume super-dramatizes the problem into a real cyber war which is a real war.
The first page of the story (location 6) introduces us to a totally dichotomic world: “the world [Note it is New York] we all know and love” versus “a darker side’ . . . Digital Chaos. . .” and it turns totally paranoid if not psychotic on the next page (location 7): “The Botmaster” has only one objective: “to infect millions of computer networks and to gain control of the world.”
This psychotic vision is amplified by the “nemesis” of this Botmaster, that is to say, “Cynsei” who is training young “Cynjas” who are “Cyber Warrior” whose mission is to defend the networks and the world against Botmaster. Then on location 13, we shift from cyberspace to the real world and the Jefferson Middle School where a computer science teacher, Mr. Hughes is confronted to a student, Grant Wiley who is a whizz kid of some sort on computers and in code but is not doing his homework. He is detained by Mr. Hughes and thy both transfer magically into cyberspace. At this moment it is clear that we are in a male universe and that the girl that seems to be attracted by Grant Wiley is of no interest to this teenager who prefers intercourse with his machine. This is a sexist vision, totally unjustified since boys and girls as soon as five or so are absolutely equal in front of these machines they have in their pockets or in their satchels. Just two days ago a 12-year-old girl attacked in words and violence her female teacher who had taken away her smartphone for the duration of the class. We see first this is a girl confronted with a rule coming from the school system (we are in Paris) and a female teacher.
Confiscation of smartphones or tablets in schools is the most absurd decision that can be taken. Instead of using the machines the kids have and providing the kids who do not have machines with some, instead of teaching them how to use these machines to do a myriad of pedagogical and cognitive operations, including of course learning how to read, spell and write (with a keyboard for sure, but write all the same) in some countries in general, in some local school in particular, in some classes with some teachers in detail, such confiscation rules are imposed. It causes frustration on the children’s side, it causes the classes to remain archaic in general pedagogical stance and in content, and it causes rebellion, violence and even more than just some blows and insults on the side of the frustrated, even traumatized children. But this particular event I have referred to shows girls are just as prone to having such smartphones as boys.
Then the story becomes banal as a fight between Botmaster and Cynja, a Cynja who is supported by the Cynsei, Mr. Hughes. The weapons used by Botmaster are malware, worms, rootkits, spear phishing, all, of course, are male or gender-neutral, which implies male in an all-male context. One tool though is female, a beautiful woman, made-up and all (location 27), and she is a Trojan, “a devious Trojan” of course. The first and only female of this book is a “devious Trojan,” hence a devious treacherous being that has been shifted from a male understanding in our culture, to a female, to a woman. That is definitely sexist.
Of course, the Cynja loses at first for us to discover the dark side of the Internet, “Darknet.” And then he seems to be winning, but Botmaster deepens his evil side. Yet a sentence is very strange. The meaning is obvious but the normal meaning of the sentence is the opposite of what the context imposes. “As many times as we win, the Bad Guys only get better.” Of course, we should have had Michael Jackson “badder” or proper plain English “worse” because “better” means in my language “less bad) and the context imposes the understanding of “much more bad,” hence “worse.” Imagine the confusion it may create in the minds of kids, even if we can argue that for some kids “better” only means “more or what has been provided, hence more bad.” We cannot play with language like that without running risks.
After that everything is simple: victory all around and some targets of our protection of the Internet. We have to protect our domain name system with IP identity for each computer or site. We must use encryption, firewalls and proper Internet Protocol Addresses to protect against malware on Networks, using Source Code, fighting against Viral Signatures not to become electronic or digital Zombies. Only one way: join the Circle of Cynjas to fight this cyberwar against Botmaster.
The conclusion is a perfect cold war manifesto in the best and most intense cold war spirit: Mr. Hughes tells Grant Wiley: “Grant, today our battlefield is a new frontier. [what does JF Kennedy and LB Johnson have to do here?] It’s one that’s invisible to all but those with cyber powers. It’s time for me to train a new type of warrior, one who will protect Cyberspace like those who protected civilization throughout History.” Signed “The Cynsei.”
From a psychotic and paranoid dichotomy to a Cold War spirit and Cyberwar of the good ones, us, Americans, against the bad ones, all those outside us, then them, the rest of the world, the pedagogical project backfires and produces a total locking up of the children they want to teach into the prison of them as individuals defined within their family circle, their certified and verified friend circles and even at school within a closed and limited circle of trusted schoolmates. The rule of “do not speak to strangers” and the second rule of “do not accept anything from a stranger” become jingoist rules that will in the future prevent these children to become open-minded adults since they will only accept what has been certified as “good” in their circle. From this jingoism to bigotry, there is only one step that can be crossed in a nanosecond. Imagine how the American racial problem is literally frozen, calcified by such an approach and how the Internet, a tool for the opening of minds can become a tool for enchaining minds into narrow prison cells. From what is advocated here and the latest case of thirteen children (with quite a few adults) locked up since their very birth by their own parents in their own house is just an extreme continuation of the locking up of internet-provided children in such a stainless and bulletproof bubble that they cannot even think properly.
These aspects must have been criticized because the second volume I will review separately corrects quite a few shortcomings I have put forward.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
CODE OF THE CYNJA VOLUME 2 — CHASE CUNNINGHAM — HEATHER C. DAHL — SHIROW DI ROSSO, illustrator — © 2015
What comes as soon as location 8 is the very gross language of Botmaster who insults Cynja in all possible ways: the bully can only insult those he considers, of course, smaller than he is and who often are smaller than he is, as long as he does not meet with someone who is just smarter and will break him down not with force but with some good jiu-jitsu or other Chinese or Japanese or Korean strategy martial art. A few of these bullying insults: “Little Dude,” “Tiny bug,” “smelly piece of code,” Silly Cynja.” He who insults his enemies is not worth even considering. But that cannot today resound or even resonate differently from the way a POTUS spoke of and insulted the leader of a foreign country and I should put leader in the plural, and what’s more it sounds and tolls like a debate about the “robust language” this same POTUS used to speak of African, Latin American and Caribbean countries as opposed to Norway.
This second volume corrects some mistakes. Botmaster is discovering he needs an assistant and she will be a woman with the brilliant name of Poly. She is OF COURSE white. Luckily she is not black. One measure of sexism less. On Grant’s side, in his class in Jefferson Middle School, the computer science Mr. Hughes prefers Jo Alita for answering one of his questions over Grant Wiley. And Jo Alita who is a girl but also black with a Latino name volunteers to solve a problem of digital mathematics and Grant Wiley has to be honest: he could not have done it. So a second measure of sexism less and one important measure of racial discrimination out. The fight then is becoming a little bit confused because of two people on the bad side and three on the good side. We sure get out of the simple dichotomy of the first volume. Dichotomy, the way some people can only think in pairs, in couples of concepts or objects, under one single binary law, directly inherited from the binary language of computers, itself the direct continuation of the binary thinking of the 19th century and particularly Karl Marx and many others who cut up society in two classes, or two sides, or two groups that had to be hostile and at war.
But the authors cannot deal with that multiple or more complex vision or conception of life and they reduce, location 29, the ternary team of the good side into a ternary vision that is the Christian Trinity. Behind but higher Mr. Hughes, an older man with a full beard, of course, plays Cynsei, the father, God. Then on the left of the picture, which is the right of the father Grant a younger male who is playing the son, Cynja, and finally on the right of the picture, hence on the left of the father, an inferior position as compared to the right, Jo, a younger female Cynja who is also a colored woman, playing the role of the Holy Spirit. Apart from the femaleness and the blackness of this Holy Spirit, the scheme and the disposition of this trinity is totally traditional in Christianity. It is, thus an old model, pattern form, Gestalt slightly evolved towards a more modern world.
This Cold War Cyberspace dichotomic paranoia of us, Americans, against them, all others, is still present and dominant in this second volume. At location 52 the authors tell us how we can survive this cyberspace war and that is absolutely frightening: “Trust no one,” “Don’t let your technology be smarter than you,” “Resistance is required.” And at location 53 the authors add: “Don’t stink at updating,” “Look for the lock,” and It’s not magic.” Obviously, the authors have put a lot of water in their wine or Canada Dry in their bourbon, but the spirit remains the same: lock your computer world onto yourself or itself and keep outsiders out. Hence the conclusion “Cyberspace will never look the same again” (location 54). I could actually consider that cyberspace has been cut in two or shattered into shattereens, into pieces.
Where is the good old time when the USA thought they were speaking and controlling the whole world? Gone, forgone, long gone, and still going away some more.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU