Sean Moncrieff: Who is behind the lockdown plot? The broadband companies, obviously

‘The closest our 5-year-old can get to playing with someone her own age is to watch it on a screen’

Broadband to the rescue: if Covid-19 had happened in the 1980s, we’d have been screwed. Photograph: Getty Images

Broadband to the rescue: if Covid-19 had happened in the 1980s, we’d have been screwed. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Here’s what the Covid conspiracy theorists get wrong: it’s not governments or international bankers or the Illuminati who benefit from lockdown. It’s the broadband companies. Obvious, really.

Yet this country is riven by high-speed apartheid. Many families still have to use their phones to google random facts or suffer the indignity of having to watch the adverts in between television shows. It’s like the 1980s. Back then, to get a house phone installed you had to bribe someone or perform unspeakable sexual acts with a government minister. Or both.

Broadband-wise, we’re pretty lucky. It’s efficient enough, though since lockdown, with all our inconsiderate neighbours also using it, it has slowed significantly. Netflix shows can be interrupted by that whirling red circle. Downloading a film on the Sky Box is a 50-50 proposition.

This baffles Daughter Number Four. She’s grown up in a world where anything she wants to watch can be accessed immediately. She doesn’t understand adverts. She’ll watch them – if they are for toys – but regards them more as public service announcements.

Not that she’s a TV addict. It’s more that she likes to have it on for company while she plays. As I write this, she’s in the room next door. Blue’s Clues is on while she uses her teddies to narrate a story involving an orphan girl named Flower and her pack of trained killer dinosaurs.

When I was her age, there was widespread parental anxiety that TV would rot the minds of children. That turned out not to be true, but with each generation, there’s always something else to worry about. For Daughter Number Four, it’s not TV. It’s what she can access on YouTube.

Not porn or violence, but the broadband equivalent of shows aimed at kids her age. If you have little ones, you may be familiar with the names. Her favourite is Adley.

Adley is never bored, never gets in trouble. Her parents never refuse to play with her because there’s a pile of ironing to do

And here’s the weird thing about these shows: compared to anything on traditional TV, they are garbage. They look like home movies when the parents decide to take a day off work to play with the kids. Except this is work. According to Dr Google, Adley McBride’s father, Sean, owns several other online businesses (he was a Snapchat star, back in the day) but Adley seems to be the most lucrative.

Adley, who will turn six this year, is worth about $20 million.

Adley seems to be having fun.

What’s most extraordinary is the immediately hypnotic effect her videos have upon Daughter Number Four. Because of this, we try to limit Adley time. Because of this, Adley is behind the glass we smash in case of emergency.

I have asked her why she likes Adley so much. She said it’s because she has lots of videos and spends all day playing. She says, when everyone is better that she’d like to visit Adley. But it’s not just Adley. Stick the iPad in her hands and she tends to flick onto similar YouTube channels. I’ve found her watching shows in Spanish and Russian. The commonality seems to be that she enjoys watching other kids playing.   

I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Many of the games Adley plays she replicates in real life. It’s probably good for her vocabulary. She might pick up a few words of Spanish.

Herself has a darker attitude. Apart from the distinct bang of child labour off the videos, she thinks it gives Daughter Number Four an unrealistic expectation of what play is. Adley is never bored, never gets in trouble. Her parents never refuse to play with her because there’s a pile of ironing to do.

What we agree on is the piercing sadness that the closest our five-year-old daughter can get to playing with someone her own age is to watch it on a screen: and that we’re completely reliant on decent broadband to keep her, and us, moderately sane. If this had happened in the 1980s, we’d have been screwed.

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