Prior Child Exposure to Social Networks likely to Misbehave Online

Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

Research carried out by a social network for primary school kids in Ireland has revealed that 86% of children who have had previous access to adult social networks by the age of 12 are far more likely to misbehave online than kids who have not been allowed by their parents.

The research carried out on 50,000 of its users by Cybersmarties.com – a safe educational social network for primary school kids, reveals that children who have had access to social networks without being educated on social networks are more likely to misbehave than those who have had no experience of social networks.

Diarmuid Hudner, CEO of Cybersmarties, said that “the root issue here is not just education but effective hands-on education of social networks which children can relate to in their world. There is nothing wrong in essence with social networks, it is just we have never been trained how to use them. Therefore when children at a young age, who have not acquired the cognitive maturity needed to assimilate what is permissible online behaviour, get access to what is essentially adult social networks, then it is a case of monkey see monkey do. Children learn from adults and unfortunately for the most part on social media, they are learning all the wrong things”.

Hudner continued “Cybersmarties is a locked down, fully monitored social network just for kids so we can immediately see through the messaging function, the children who have used social networks before. They are more aggressive and opinionated than children who are experiencing social media for the first time. They have been educated in all the wrong behavioural patterns. We have only positive content on Cybersmarties with behavioural technology built in to educate children if they start to behave inappropriately, therefore children only behave positively. Humans are social interactive creatures, who react to their surroundings in order to feel included. If everything on a social network is positive then the users will behave in a positive way. Someone acting inappropriately becomes an abnormal behaviour which needs to change quickly if they want to be accepted by the rest of the group. The average is 3 days using behavioural technology where children who had previously misbehaved, begin to start respecting themselves and others online. The great thing is seeing how positive they become towards others after such a short period. I always believe there is no badness in children, they just haven’t been educated properly and all the research we are carrying out verifies this. If we want social media to be used in a kinder, friendlier, more proactive and positive way in the future, then we must be educate children now in a way that they understand.”

Prior Child Exposure to Social Networks likely to Misbehave Online was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Using the power of story to build self-esteem in children

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Alan White

“A tree with strong roots, laughs at storms” – Malay Proverb.

I believe that to facilitate well-being in children it is vital that well-being education begins at an early age. As a Secondary school teacher, I have always admired Primary school teachers. They have the ability to develop positive relationships with their students that is often more difficult to do at second level. At primary school, teachers have the same group for the full school year and they become so much more than just a teacher. They become role-models, counsellors, nurses, referees and much more to their students. That is why Primary level is an important time to introduce the concept of well-being education.

Our self-esteem is the foundation for our well-being. Without positive self-esteem we are likely to struggle in our lives as we will always feel like we are not good enough, experience feelings of guilt and behave in often self-destructive ways. How we think and feel about ourselves is the biggest factor that informs our internal narrative. If we have positive self-esteem, the story we tell ourselves tends to be largely a positive one. However if we have poor self- esteem the stories we tend to tell ourselves can be negative, self-deprecating and ultimately counterproductive to our hopes and dreams.

Our sense of self, begins to develop from the moment we are born. Young children are amazing at picking up subtle cues from the important people in their lives, their parents and extended family initially and as they grow their teacher’s friends and anyone else they regularly interact with. If a child is brought up in a positive and affirming environment, where they are loved unconditionally, encouraged and feel safe, positive self-esteem tends to develop. The opposite is the case if a child is brought up in an environment where they feel that they are only loved conditionally, i.e. if they conform, achieve, and behave. If a child experiences an environment where there is regular tension, sarcasm, over punishment, they will quickly internalise these experiences and begin to blame and criticise themselves.

That is why it is important to allow children to develop a strong sense of self from an early age. If a child has a strong base from which to grow, they are not only more likely to see themselves as capable and valuing themselves as an individual, but they are also more likely to flourish. The first 1000 days theory is one that makes a lot of sense in this regard. The first 1000 days of a child’s development is crucial to how they develop and how they build a platform for their future development. I believe that well-being education should be fun and inspiring. Well-being education is becoming, thankfully, more accepted as a part of our education, not just for children but also for us as teachers, who, if we are honest need well-being in our own lives to help cope with what life throws at us.

Alan White is a Secondary School Teacher at Bishopstown Community School and is well known for his inspiring work in introducing mental health initiatives into the Irish school system. His secondary school resource “Choices” is published by Creagh Castle Publishing. Alan’s new resource “Oscar & Jack” written specifically for Primary Schools will be published by Creagh Castle Publishing in March and is a series of stories and accompanying workbook for children to help them to manage their emotions and maintain mental well-being.

Using the power of story to build self-esteem in children was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Preventing Cyber-bullying by Not Focusing on Cyber-bullying

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

As we begin 2017 and a new year of opportunities and challenges await us, I thought it would be a good time to highlight what Cybersmarties have learned in the last year about how children use social media when they are in a completely safe and positive environment. As of this week, we have over 9000 kids of Primary School age using Cybersmarties and is increasing at a rate of 1500 kids per week. We have .001% instances of cyber-bullying on the site. It is something we are proud of, not so much because of the technology we have created but because we know that this new approach is having a huge effect on the ground. We all know the issues concerning cyber-bullying – there is a new survey on it nearly every week. Talking about problems just manifests problems; nothing positive ever comes from reiterating the negative. However focusing on the positive aspects of social media manifests solutions.

Cybersmarties doesn’t concentrate on cyber-bullying – we concentrate on providing a social network that is so safe, so positive, so full of fun, so continuously encouraging of the child to believe in themselves that children on Cybersmarties have no reason or no compulsion to behave badly. And this new way is working, all the statistics are proving it. However if they do send inappropriate messages, then the behavioural technology kicks in which educates rather than punish. It gives the child the opportunity to think things through before acting. How many of us as adults could do with that!! We also subtly tell children that making friends has nothing to do with how someone looks or how popular someone is. Children as a result become less attached to other’s opinions of themselves; they are more interested in being happy within their own skin.

A wise man said “If you want something you have never had then you must do something you have never done”. Cybersmarties takes this approach to social networking for kids. If we want to prevent cyber-bullying, we must focus on positive interaction between kids. If we want to prevent the problems of mental health and depression which are so prevalent today, then we must attempt to educate children now in life skill coping mechanisms which could help them through a hard time.

Being a tech firm, we use technology to do this. This is why we brought out a Wellbeing section which teaches amongst other things – meditation. We know from our data that kids are listening to these videos before going to bed, to calm and slow the mind down and what is more important is that they are doing it themselves for themselves. We have Superheroes deliver positive messages each day to each child because good role models are important. For the team here at Cybersmarties, 2017 is about bringing a whole new range of features for kids which entertain, illuminate and allow creativity to flourish. This is our mission. We are dedicated to the propulsion of positivity in all aspects of life which can help kids grow into happier, more fulfilled and wholesome young adults.

Preventing Cyber-bullying by Not Focusing on Cyber-bullying was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

When It Comes To Cyberbullying, Speed Is Key

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Cyber-bullying is affecting children up and down the country. It’s not just in secondary education, it starts at primary school level. And, it’s not just at home, with an average of 65% of children owning a smartphone (*Internetmatters.org), cyberbullying is happening right now in our classrooms.

Reacting at the speed of social

Whether it’s kittens, the newest meme or Beyonce’s latest outfit, news spreads fast on social media. Cyber-bullying works just the same way. Very quickly a negative image about child, a video or comment can be shared, liked and spread to hundreds of students. It is vital that anyone working with children reacts with that same speed following being alerted to an incident.

Parents need to be informed as they may not yet be aware, as well as having the culprits identified. Similarly to how you would deal with bullying offline, it is a very sensitive matter. It’s important that the child who is being bullied feels the support from teachers and understands that there is help.

It’s more than a like

It’s important to understand that something that may seem trivial to us, for example a “like” on a post, is more than just a like to many children. It’s the confirmation that someone else agrees with the bully. The child affected will place a lot more emphasis on these than we as adults would. Unfortunately, likes are gathered fast and without much thought on social media. Any engagement on a post ensures amplification through the extended network.

We know that kids sometimes don’t think through what it means to like, comment or share an opinion. It’s important for them to learn online etiquette and how to think before you click.

Prevention

As with most things, preventing the issue from occurring is the best mode of defence. We know social media is here to stay and how hard it is to enforce a no-phone ban. So when it comes to prevention we need to take it back into the real world.

Conversations about the etiquette of communicating online need to start in primary school classrooms. Just as children learn their please and thank you’s, they must understand how to act online. Both parents and teachers play a part in this. It is a new topic for most of us.

Role plays, open discussions and working in small groups to tackle the subject can help:

● Open up positive discussion about sensitive topics
● Promote self awareness and awareness of others
● Build self-esteem and confidence
● Teach the importance of self reflection as a means of accessing progress
● Address fears of students

Books alone on the other hand are unlikely to have a positive preventative effect. This is not where social media happens. Engagement and buy-in from students must be found on their platforms and in their language.

To ensure preventative actions take hold, schools must make cyber-bullying part of the ongoing conversation in classrooms. Integration in subjects such as Citizenship, ICT and PSHE are only a few examples of subjects that lend themselves to talking about cyber-bullying. A once-off presentation or external speaker is simply not going to be enough to tackle the speed at which cyber-bullying is taking hold.

About the author:

Diarmuid Hudner is author of several anti-bullying books and CEO of CyberSmarties.com.
CyberSmarties.com is a free social network for primary schools that allows kids to use social media in a controlled, locked down, supervised and safe environment without the fear of harassment or cyber-bullying and uses behavioural technology to instil positive online behavioural habits.

Follow CyberSmarties on:

Facebook Page: Cybersmarties Page
Twitter: Cybersmarties Twitter

When It Comes To Cyberbullying, Speed Is Key was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Tackling cyberbullying in schools – Locking down the system

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A 2015 back to school survey revealed that 65% of children aged 8-11 in the UK own a smartphone. The internet and social media are now well and truly in our primary classrooms. While many schools have rolled out a phone ban during school hours, it is very difficult to enforce this. In addition, the widespread access to internet-enabled devices has enabled the rise of the cyberbully.

The rise of the cyberbully

Access to the internet and social media channels are the reasons for the rise of the cyberbully. But, they alone cannot drive negative behaviour. Social media and the net are meant to be used positively; to learn about the world, connect with friends and family.

Children act out what they see in their environment. On social media they are openly exposed to people being torn down for their looks, an opinion being smashed and trolls stirring controversy for the sake of it. This behaviour is what is emulated and gives rise to the cyberbully.

Many believe it is up to the social networks to tackle this. The sheer scale makes this impossible. We also need to remember, these networks are not made for children.

Counteracting the trend with a locked down system

The structure of the most popular networks like Facebook or Snapchat do not lend themselves to be locked down or even restricted to make them safe for children to use. There is also no way for children to slowly be introduced to these platforms. Kids are confronted with the world in their palm of their hands and they simply don’t know how to process all the information. Nevermind the behaviour.

This is where a locked down system can help. What we mean by a locked down system, is a social network made for children that does not allow unverified kids to join and offers a monitoring system and behavioural technology to teach good online etiquette.

The involvement of schools in a system like this is vital to ensure verification of children and to assist in the educational element of online etiquette. Within CyberSmarties, a locked down social media network for primary school children, notifications of attempted bullying are shared with the class teacher so he or she can react early. It also holds a variety of learning materials that help teachers tackle the subject of cyberbullying in their classrooms.

Getting kids and schools involved at primary level is key to creating a safe and educational experience online. Together, we can approach the subject in schools, at home and online.

CyberSmarties is available for free for primary schools. Complete our signup form to find out more.

 

Click here to Sign Up

Tackling cyberbullying in schools – Locking down the system was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Are we taking cyberbullying seriously enough?

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The internet and social media have grown at lightening speed. Today, our children are born as digital natives (those who can’t recall a time without the internet) and most of us use Facebook, Twitter and other networks daily. But, with the rise of the networks, we have also seen the rise of cyberbullying.

What are children saying about cyberbullying?

In the “Net Children Go Mobile” a UK report funded by the EU, it’s outlined that 21% of children aged 9-16 reported being bullied. This is a 2013 report and since then numbers have increased with more children being exposed to social media.

Children aged 10-18 were asked earlier this year in an Internetmatter.org survey in the UK whether social media companies take bullying seriously enough. Half said they don’t.

The stats are startling. As parents, teachers and guardians of our children, we have to find a better way to keep our children safe online.

Fundamental issues

There are fundamental issues that have to be addressed to find the solution. The initial one is taking a close look at the existing social networks and how they safeguard children. It is done in quite a straightforward way: an age limit is set (generally in the early teens) under which a child should not be able to have an account. These age limits are quickly bypassed and suddenly children are exposed to adult content (jokes, violence, sexual references etc).

This takes us right to the next issue. Children are exposed to social networks without any learning curve. Think about learning how to ride a bike. Before you let your child cycle on the road, you help him or her learn how to cycle safely with stabilisers and then move on to the next step when your child is ready. When it comes to social media, children are thrown right in the deep end.

Once in the deep end, children emulate others. Considering the volume of negative and throw-away comments, it is easy to see how children can quickly replicate this behaviour and see it as the norm on social.

Changing how we approach social media

Social media is a fantastic resource for all of us. We can stay in touch with friends and family far and wide, receive the freshest news and the occasional chuckle. This is what our children should experience. To make this happen, we need to change the approach we take to social media and start teaching our children.

It is difficult for children to understand how a comment sent and seen without body language can be interpreted as hurtful. They are not aware of this impact. This awareness needs to come from home and school where children already learn how to behave in the real world. These same rules should apply online where etiquette of being nice, please & thank you, and not hurting others verbally should be just the same as in the offline space.

It is unlikely that the large social networks will be able to do this. The simple reason, their platforms are built for adults not children.

Our suggested approach is simple;
1. Integrate social media and online behaviour into primary schools’ curriculums
2. Make conversations at home about social media easier through shared resources
3. Allow children to learn social media in a safe, monitored and fun environment just for them.

CyberSmarties helps teachers and parents teach better social etiquette to children while providing a social network just for kids. Just like the other social networks it is free. But, unlike others, it performs child authentication, combats bullying through technology and teaches positive behaviour online through unique behavioural technology.

CyberSmarties is simple to set up in your school. When you sign up, we contact you to discuss your school’s needs and how you can get everyone involved:

Click here it to Sign Up

Are we taking cyberbullying seriously enough? was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

The Times, They are a Changin

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Time: the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole”

I am not sure if any of you have noticed the sunsets this October. Perhaps because of the cold, dry weather we are experiencing they have been more visible and thus I have taken more notice of them. The twinning colours of red and orange as the sun is setting over a foggy landscape of trees has been breath-taking to watch. There is something mystifying in the silence of a sunset or of a full moon when everyone is sleeping. I wonder at how many billions of people over billions of lifetimes have watched this same moon, some wishing upon it, some worshipping it but all curious about it. No matter where you are, in whatever part of the world, we all have the same view.

I wonder under the gaze of this moon, have we got the concept of time all wrong. Animals have no concept of time and therefore do not fear death. It is perhaps because they have no knowledge or concept of time that they are generally content in themselves (I use my 20 year old sheepdog “Seamus” here as an example) whereas humans are afraid of death and therefore try to pack as much into the time they believe they have left in order to believe they have not wasted the time allotted to them. This is what is called “having a good time”. For Seamus, all he has probably realised in getting older is that he can’t chase cars like he used to, female dogs don’t take any notice of him anymore, he sleeps more often and is more annoyed by the sounds of imaginary intruders (they could be there but I haven’t seen them). But if you believed that you had all the time in the world (no pun intended) you would most likely be far more content because you would not feel you had all this stuff to do because you were running out of it. After all is it not contentedness that we are all seeking. Therefore I am with Seamus on this one.

This brings me to the point of children. Children being children count their days in the number of “sleeps” until a particular event comes and this time measurement has been handed down by parents. Children under a certain age and just like Seamus, have no concept of time (I must acknowledge here that cats and other species of the animal kingdom are not excluded). They eat when they are hungry, take a nap when they are tired and play the rest of time. Sounds good to me and there seems to be a pattern arising here. My father, who is a farmer and still farming at 83, does not carry a watch except for Sunday mass, which is worn more as a fashion accessory that anything else. He has never had any concept of time. He worked outside until he was finished and if he wasn’t, it would wait for the next day. Dad was always more interested in seasons as a measuring barometer and how nature was evolving, like if berries were out late then we could expect a mild Winter. One of his pet hates was articles in the Farmers Journal by young farmers saying their grass yield was up this week by 2%. He would and does say “measuring it wont make it grow any faster, it will come up when its supposed to come up”. There is wisdom in this.

To me there is a certain natural rhythm to the world. The sun rises the sun sets, the oceans ebb and the oceans flow. We may run around trying to fit everything into an allotted time but time because it is infinite doesn’t recognise our feeble attempts at trying to control it, it just keeps on keeping on. At Cybersmarties, we want children to be children: to be allowed a safe, protected space where they are free to create and make friends because humans are creative and social creatures. When I was young (many moons and sleeps ago) we spent all day down fields, over hills, getting cut by briars and stung by nettles and it was great. I am still for all this as much as possible. But the world has changed, values have changed and how children play now is different to how I played and how children will play in the future. So if social media is a place where kids gather together nowadays, then let it be a safe place for them, where only other kids are allowed and have the TIME to be kids as long as possible. Perhaps in this way, we can maintain contentedness longer and postpone time for as long as possible.

The Times, They are a Changin was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Under The Surface

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Brendan Woodage
Operations Manager at CyberSmarties

When a problem just goes away, what are the factors involved in its disappearance? How does a problem cease to exist? The more I think about this question, the more I realise that problems don’t just disappear when ignored; they expand and multiply. A problem can only ever disappear when action is taken towards solving it.

For example, yesterday I had a toothache. The reason I had a toothache was because I have a cavity in one of my molars which I’ve continuously ignored. I know the problem will only get worse as time goes on but I choose to ignore that fact that I need to get a filling. This ignorance of problems doesn’t end with just me. We as a society also look at problems in the same light. Homelessness, Cyber Bullying, and even Mental Health and Suicide. Problems that everyone knows exists, but turn a blind eye to, expecting that they will in some way or another fix themselves.

But the reality is that problems don’t just fix themselves. My tooth will never truly get better unless I ultimately take the right action. This is the case with every other problem that each of us face. So for problems which face society, it takes a collective effort which has the goal of solving a particular issue which ultimately results in that problem being fixed. For example, on weekends, after the excitement of a night out, the streets are littered with cans, bottles, fast food waste and worse yet people wake up in the morning to find the streets are cleaned, broken glass removed. It is as if the events of the previous night never even happened. And this gets overlooked as once upon a time, these streets would have remained in the state that they were the night before. But someone (possibly everyone) had had enough of this behaviour and decided to put action into place to tackle this problem. And now we have clean streets, with the public oblivious to the work that was put in to make it this way.

A lot of the time, the simplest of actions towards getting rid of a problem make a huge difference. And quite often those actions aren’t seen, or heard. These actions happen in the background and then one day society realises that the problem is no longer there. We know the true extent of this here at CyberSmarties. From the outside looking in, CyberSmarties is a social network for primary school kids. But we didn’t create CyberSmarties with the sole intention of creating a fun and age appropriate network for kids. We created CyberSmarties with the goal of eradicating cyber bullying, promoting positive online and offline behaviour, promoting self-esteem and empathy, and all within a locked down safe space. We chose to tackle this problem with our underlying behavioural technology, our constant positive reinforcement via our What Matters section, Sentiment Analysis, SMART filter systems and other key features that are continuously active beneath the surface of our site. Messages containing negative words are prevented from being sent, gold stars are rewarded for good behaviour, and noticeable change in the students online and offline behaviour are all evident when a child uses CyberSmarties.

We saw a problem, and we’re doing our part to make sure this problem becomes a thing of the past, and hopefully one day the internet will be a kinder, and safer place for people across the world.

Under The Surface was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Guests of the Nation

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

A situation happened on the doorstep of my office last week that gave me cause to reflect on myself and society in general. It was one of those things that happen which you can choose to ignore and pretend it hasn’t happened or get involved. With regret I have to say it took me 24 hours to react.

Our office is one of the old Georgian buildings in Limerick City, beautiful to look at but in winter would make a polar bear sneeze. On either side of the stone steps leading up to the front door there are what are architecturally known as “Light Wells” but would be commonly called basement areas. In their heyday, these basements would have been the kitchens to the gentry living there, and the space outside these allowed sunlight into the kitchens. The building next to me is unoccupied, and as I turned the key in the door, I caught sight of the view of legs in the basement area to the left below. Looking down I could see that there was a man and woman standing down there. From their clothing, they looked homeless and seeing me, stood back into the darkness so as not to be seen. At the time as I was busy, I did not give much thought to the matter and carried on with my work.

Later that day, I stood outside the door as is my habit, to take in the sounds and sights of the City, as I find it helpful to clear my mind. I had completely forgotten about my new neighbours until I had stood outside, and craned my neck to see if they were still there. Again I saw just the legs of these people standing against the wall. I always give to people begging on the street, but then I would walk on, content in the knowledge I had done my part, but unwilling to engage with the person themselves other than to nod my head. I think most people are like this; the giving of money to someone less fortunate than oneself satisfies some moral question within us, it helps us to live with ourselves without ever having to try and get directly involved in trying to solve the problem.

Yet here were these two homeless people, in effect, outside my door. The thing that I noticed about these people was how silent they were. They said nothing to each other, stood back in the shadow of the basement, so no one would see them as if they were hiding. They did not beg or were not drinking alcohol or causing a disturbance. They were just standing there in silence. Later that afternoon I had to go out for a meeting and upon my return my neighbours were gone, vanished it seemed without a trace. On my drive home, it began to get to me.

That night I couldn’t sleep. The self-hypocrisy of what I stood for was gnawing at me. There I was running a company which espoused positive behaviour and empathy towards others and standing outside my door were people who really needed my help yet I had done nothing. I made a promise then that I would help them if I met them again, but that annoyed me too since they had already left and the “next time I meet them I will do something” promise I made, seemed very hollow and fake.

As luck would have it, my neighbours had returned from their travels and were back again the following morning. Now my opportunity had come so I had to act. Getting some sandwiches and drinks, I walked down the steps to them and was surprised how they backed away from me, afraid almost of being discovered. I just passed over the food to put them at ease as best I could. The man put out his hand to shake mine but seeing how dirty it was, he pulled it back again quickly in shame. I continued to hold out mine until he finally shook it. There was a kindness and humility to these people I couldn’t really make sense of. I didn’t want to intrude too much at this point so I said my goodbye’s and left. Over the last few days I have met them every day and slowly they have begun to tell me their story. They are brother and sister. Their names are John and Marie, in their late 50’’s and have been on the streets since April. They had been sharing a flat in sheltered accommodation, but a disagreement between John and his neighbours, who were drinking and causing trouble, resulted in John being evicted. Marie was allowed to stay, but out of loyalty and concern for her brother, she left with him and now both are living on the streets.

I don’t know what will happen to John and Marie. I have made some calls but so far haven’t had much luck so I will keep trying. The Gardaí moved them on for a day following someone making a complaint but where are they supposed to go. As John said to me “We are all flesh and blood at the end of the day”. Their plight has affected me on some unconscious level I cannot fully understand. I had read somewhere before that we are all only two or three paychecks away from being homeless. A wrong decision and some bad luck could have anyone of us being in John and Marie’s situation and that’s frightening. What is equally as frightening to me is that it took their presence outside my door for me to do anything about it, to really see homeless people as being people who have a story, a name, something to say. It is easy to go off on a rant about the government or the banks but that is only deflection really as we know by now nothing is going to ever change there. All that is left is the decision you make as an individual whether to be help or not on a daily basis. Unfortunately I found myself lacking in this respect when it occurred initially, but now I feel I am learning for the better for having met John and Marie.

Guests of the Nation was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Only a Closed Mind is Certain

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”
–Sherlock Holmes

I watched a film recently called “Dean Spanley” which was about a man, who when he drank the famous wine “Imperial Tokay”, believed himself to be the reincarnation of a Springer Spaniel dog. (Similar hallucinations have long been documented in Ireland after a particularly joyful wake!!). Was this a children’s movie I hear you ask? No on the contrary, it was a very satirical, but brilliantly acted movie featuring an all-star cast of Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown. As to the veracity of whether past lives were in fact possible, Sam Neill declared that “Only a closed mind is certain”. And this statement got me thinking.

When I was a young man (or rather should I say, a younger man) I was certain of many things. I was certain that I would be famous, I was certain that Limerick would win an All-Ireland, I was certain that I would one day most likely rule the world, I was certain that women would find me irresistible and I was certain that I would not get old (or should I say older). It has been quite a rude awakening to find that I have been proven wrong in all of my certainties and even though the gate hasn’t been closed on all of them yet, I am becoming less and less certain. When I think about this statement from its truest, non-satirical standpoint then I find myself thinking about the importance if not necessity of having an open mind. Despite ourselves, our conditioning forms our opinions on society, religion, beliefs, politics and people. We are quick to judge and hold steadfast to our beliefs without ever really questioning why we think the way we do.

I often wondered about this in relation to religion and the vigorous way in which people would argue their God was the only true God, even going as far as cause wars in their name. I wonder if their conviction is actually rooted in fear, not in belief. Is it the fear that they may actually be wrong? and if so, would their belief system be shattered? everything they thought or believed to be true could be wrong and so rather than face this, is it easier to rail against it? Being certain, by its very nature, can be very dangerous as it rules out all other possibilities. Being certain excludes all other opinions except ones own and those who agree with you and this could be a very narrow way to live. Until Ferdinand Magellan conclusively proved the world was round by sailing around it, for millennia everyone was certain the world was flat. Within decades, whole fleets were circumnavigating the globe. Being certain that something cannot be done is extremely limiting to our potential as individuals and society. I know that there are numerous things I have convinced myself that I am incapable of doing or am bad at without ever really trying to see if I am wrong. It is “easier” not to try, it is easier not to have to face the truth or work at something to dispel the myth I have convinced myself of.

When we started building Cybersmarties over two and a half years ago, everyone told us what we were attempting wouldn’t work. They said behavioural technology could not be built. They said there was no way to authenticate a child as a real child. They said nothing could really be done about cyber-bullying. They said a lot of things. Tomorrow, Primary schools around Ireland begin using Cybersmarties for the full academic year. Today we were contacted by schools in the UK asking to join the network and yesterday by schools in the US. It was not that we were certain we could build behavioural technology but we kept an open mind as to the possibilities of what could be done. One cannot rule out anything until it is explored and after what was a very hard struggle, the Cybersmarties Team now know that our technology not only helps prevent cyber-bullying by educating positive behaviour but that it will spread into other countries education systems. The Socratic Paradox where Socrates was alluded to have said “I know one thing; that I know nothing” is actually very liberating. It allows the mind to roam the full spectrum of possibilities and I think we should approach education in this way. What we can do as individuals and achieve in this life is down to how open we are to life’s possibilities and how we deal with what life throws at us. We are working on new technology know which pinpoints “creative skills” in different fields as a means to encourage children to pursue their natural talents. We may not get it right, but by keeping an open mind at least we leave open the possibility of getting it right. I may not believe I will come back as a reincarnation of a Springer Spaniel but who then who am I to say…..I could win Crufts one day.

Only a Closed Mind is Certain was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog