You sure that web cam is off?

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 6:32 p.m.

Another week has gone by and as I write this, there is a web cam staring at me. I can only assume that it springs to life when I tell it to...as in when I fire up my newly downloaded Skype to talk with a friend or relative down the road in Montreal or across the Atlantic, in England or Italy. It's pretty nifty but I get the impression that it might all be a plot and the little gadget is secretly broadcasting me typing away with furrowed brow and tongue in cheek. It’s not a pretty picture and that will only get uglier if I decide some summer evening to type up my musings in my underwear. No, no, I’ll have to unplug the thing just to be on the safe side.

Any of my ex-sociology students will vaguely remember me teaching them the term, “Future Shock” that Alvin Toffler coined years ago. Now it’s the Baby Boomers who have become the techno-idiots and feel so very futuristic as we make video calls on Skype and feel like it’s straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Oh, man, I was supposed to be living on a moon colony by now. What the hell happened to the future? It’s so mundane.

One of my biggest shocks is this lack of privacy that we’re getting so very cavalier about. I’ve had discussions with teachers in both the public and private systems who are very gung-ho towards the computer software that allow a teacher to go into any kid’s computer and see whether he or she is on task or bouncing around the netherworlds of the Internet. What’s more interesting: typing up that English poem or exploring the cyber-underbelly of humanity? Maybe I’m overdramatizing, more likely little Suzie is getting the latest gossip about who’s going out with that GUY. Shouldn’t the teacher be able to zoom into Suzie’s computer with a warning, GET OFF MSN AND GET BACK TO WORK!!

After all, Suzie should be prepared for the computerized workplace where there is no privacy and the administration could swoop down on her at the first sign of inattention. Suzie should be prepared for street corners where TV cameras check for crime, terrorists and anyone who might jaywalk or drop a gum wrapper. In the interests of civil order, Suzie should be prepared to give up a modicum of civil liberties for everyone’s safety.

I don’t know about you but if Suzie was my daughter, this would not be the kind of education that I would want her to have nor is it the kind of world that I want her to inherit. Suzie should have a strong sense of her own personal space and the right to her own world and that includes her computer. If Suzie doesn’t get her poem done, then she should suffer any and all of the consequences that not doing her work brings. Flunk her, keep her in after school…better yet, watch the kids’ faces as they work; you can usually tell who’s working and who’s not. The smiles give it away.

What I don’t want is a paranoid 1984 world that seems to be coming up on us, thick and fast. If Facebook says that they can ensure my privacy to a reasonable degree through their security systems and options for setting up Friends then I want them to do that. By the same token, it’s my responsibility and Suzie’s responsibility to be aware that the Internet is public space and that stupid pictures and stupid comments have a way of finding themselves in the hands of the people that we least want to have them.

As I write, I’m very careful about what I say. If I want total freedom to write, I can write on my own computer or in the security of my writing group who understand very well that the narrator isn’t always me; often it’s a fictional personality.

If we want our civil liberties, we have to use them responsibly but more importantly, we have to defend them. If we forfeit these liberties in our schools, I think that it’s a hop, skip and a jump to adapting to a lack of privacy that will make us more likely to give up these rights in later life. It really isn’t worth it and it worries me that others don’t see it. We’ve come a long way in how we cherish civil liberties. It’s a shame to think that as technology grows more sophisticated, it threatens these liberties that people have fought to preserve.



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