Why are Parents Surveilling Their Young Adult Children?

How much Mario Batali, famous chef, and father of two college age sons, do you have in you? Batali in a national newspaper recently:

I still pay for my son’s phones, so they use the “Find My Friends” app, which allows me to track them no matter where they are. If they turn it off, I give them 15 minutes to turn it back on or I turn off their phones. ’Cause if you’re somewhere you don’t want me to know about, maybe you should pay for your own phone.

It’s amazing to me that Batali is not the least bit self conscious about surveilling his sons, meaning maybe you find my reaction more surprising. But before this phenomenon becomes the new normal, let’s “press pause” and think about it a bit.

Some questions for the Batali’s of the world. Why so little trust in your adult children? Was your parenting that bad? How would you have liked it if your parents had used global positioning satellites to keep track of your every move when a young adult? When a young adult, did you have ample freedom to make some important decisions by yourself, including where to go and when? And did you learn anything important from poor decisions? In the end, were you better off as a result of the pre-gps autonomy you enjoyed?

“But the world is a more dangerous place today,” the Batali’s will say, “then when we grew up.” But social science data strongly suggests otherwise. So rampant parental anxiety about their young adult children’s well-being isn’t rational, it’s emotional, which begs a few more questions for the Batali’s. What is your greatest fear? Is it, as I suspect, that your adult children are going to be physically harmed, maybe even die?

How will your technological tethers prevent random bad things from happening? My guess is, and tell me if I’m wrong, the Batali’s can’t quite accept the fragility of life, theirs, and especially their children’s. If we want to truly safeguard our young adult children, we have to ban them from getting driver’s licenses, not allow them to go away to college, and preclude them from being outdoors in public. In addition, we need to strengthen our technological tethers so that we can detect blood alcohol, THC, and nakedness from long distance.*

Last but not least, a suggestion for the Batali broheims and their watched over peers. Scrape together enough money for your own phones. Tell your parents to take their “Find My Friends” apps and shove them. Lovingly of course. Because life is fragile.

* I hope no one in Silicon Valley reads this.

What College Professors and Adminstrators Get Wrong

In the age of social media and smartphones, what expectations—if any—should professors have for privacy for lectures and communications intended for students? That’s Colleen Flaherty’s question in Inside Higher Education. The larger question is what expectations should any of us have for privacy?

Flaherty tells the story of Rachel Slocum, assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, who was. . . 

stunned earlier this month when what she thought was an innocuous. . . email to students about why they couldn’t access Census data to complete an important course assignment became national news.

Her email. . . blamed the “Republican/Tea Party controlled House of Representatives” for the shutdown and consequent U.S. Census Bureau website blackout. Then it appeared on Fox News, the Daily Caller, and in her local paper, after a student posted a screen shot on Twitter. It also caused uproar on campus, prompting numerous calls and emails to Chancellor Joe Gow, who sent an email to students, faculty, and staff distancing the university from Slocum’s ‘highly partisan’ comments.

Slocum said she probably wrote the email too quickly upon hearing her students couldn’t access the site, without sufficient explanation of her political reference. But the chain reaction was hard to believe, given that she never intended—or thought—that her email would be seen by anyone outside of her geography course.

Stunned, really? Michael Phelps can’t smoke a joint inside a dark fraternity house without smartphone pictures of it appearing in major newspapers. Why was it “hard to believe” your email was tweeted? It could’ve just as easily been forwarded, uploaded to Facebook, and blown up and pasted on the side of La Crosse’s busses.

Another tenured professor of creative writing at Michigan State University had his teaching duties reassigned after he embarked on “. . . what’s been described as an anti-Republican ‘rant on the first day of class in August.”

And Facebook helped Santiago Piñón, assistant professor of religion at Texas Christian University, make headlines last month, when a student he invited via email to a study session for “students of color only” posted the message on her page. Almost instantly, the invitation, which many said discriminated against other students, went viral.

Timeout while I replay in my peabrain what I said in class yesterday afternoon. Yikes! When discussing education reform I took shots at Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Tom Friedman, and 44. When those deets are made public my university’s administration will probably throw me under the bus of public outrage too. If this blog goes dark sometime soon, don’t be surprised. Know that I cherished you dear reader.

Slocum said she saw close monitoring of professor’s words by watchdog groups as potentially chilling to free speech, and as a means of waging the nation’s current political battles on a new front, to the detriment of higher education overall.

Fear is the lifeblood of watchdog groups. And spineless administrators. That’s why tenure is so important. Slocum shouldn’t retract what she wrote, instead she should explain it to any upset students. Granted, they probably won’t agree with her reasoning, but their only concern should be whether Slocum’s politics prevent her from fairly assessing their work.

Gow, Slocum’s chancellor, said that. . . he would have responded “exactly the same way” if Slocum’s email had blamed Democrats or any other group for the shutdown. Both he—a longtime communications scholar—and La Crosse value free speech and academic freedom, he said, but now more than ever the actions of faculty and staff can influence public support for higher education.

Ultimately, Gow said, the Internet has “greatly blurred” the line between what’s public and what’s private, “and we do need to remember that what we’re saying to students may be shared more broadly.”

Come on Gow, “greatly blurred,” really? Try erased. “Blurred” might make more sense if Gow had actually come to Slocum’s defense. Read Gow’s words again. He’s saying maintaining public support trumps free speech and academic freedom.

Gow said that ideally, a student who was offended by a professor’s speech would try to settle the matter internally, first through a conversation with that professor, then through more formal complaint mechanisms as needed. La Crosse also takes student evaluations seriously in personnel decisions, he said.

Could Gow be any more out-of-touch with college students? This generation doesn’t do direct interpersonal conflict. For shitssake, they break up with one another via text messaging. Then there’s Gow’s mind numbing student evaluation hammer. All these years I thought student evaluations focused on whether students learned anything of value in their courses, but I guess they’re at least partly designed to determine whether students are ever made uncomfortable by a professor’s politics. Note to Assistant Professors at Wisconsin La Crosse—wait until you get tenure to express anything that could be deemed the least bit political.

Slocum expressed similar views, saying that taking complaints to the Internet before the institution “seems a breach of trust” and removes them from their context.

Of course that would be preferable, but it’s naive to expect it. Wisconsin La Crosse can update their student honor code, and implore students not to take their complaints to the Internet, but some still will. This generation lives on-line. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

At La Crosse and other institutions . . . Gow suggested that professors make up their own rules and include them on course syllabuses—as some faculty at various institutions. . . already do. But, the chancellor said, enforcing those policies could be another complicated matter. “That’s kind of uncharted territory there, isn’t it?”

Now I’m starting to feel sorry for Gow. And this excerpt heightens my sympathy for Slocum:

This had never happened to me before so it was a new, unexpected and unpleasant experience, Slocum said in an email. And I didn’t expect it because my emails to students are the boring stuff of ‘Why didn’t you turn in that’ or ‘Here are some important points to remember,’ rather than anything that might cause fury on the Internet.

Here’s some unsolicited advice to my syllabi writing brethren whether Packer fans or otherwise: Do not expect the Internet Generation to come to your office to discuss their concern with your politics. And don’t be surprised if they take surreptitious screen shots of you* and your communication. Or tweet something you’ve said or done. Or post about something you’ve said or done to Facebook. Express partisan political views at your own risk.

* I was a recent victim of surreptitious screen shoting while Skyping with the college senior. Told her about a fun Saturday night out where her mother and I watched Flamenco dancing at a downtown Olympia pizza joint. To give her a little flavor flav of the evening, I demonstrated my pretty astounding flamenco skills. Unbeknownst to me, she took a screen shot midway through the demo. Within a few minutes some of her friends on Facebook were eating it up. The worst part of that whole infringement of my privacy? You need video to fully appreciate my mad flamenco skillz.

State of the Blog—August, 2011

It’s been a long time since I’ve pressed pause on Pressing Pause.

I’m assigning myself an “F” in terms of my goal of creating a “virtual seminar”. Consequently, I’ve updated the tagline and “About This Blog” link. It’s okay because I understand people’s passivity since I rarely comment on the blogs I read. Nor do I write reviews of anything I purchase, actively participate on forums, or ever reply to the annoying “Is this advertisement relevant to you?” pop-up. I don’t find the Facebook execs (or Peter Singer’s) argument that privacy is obsolete the least bit convincing. Apart from this blog, I’m net-passive, so lurking be cool.

Sometimes people email me comments and talk to me in person about my posts, both which I really appreciate. Even if you don’t want to comment publicly, don’t hesitate to email thoughts, suggestions, or ideas for posts. Whatever. Any feedback is appreciated.

I’m focusing more on the process of writing substantive stuff and thinking less about readership stats. However, I have to confess to sometime envying (what commandent is that?) the five or six bloggers I regularly read when they receive more comments per post than I receive readers.

The bofo blogs all leverage social media in ways my Facebook-less self doesn’t and they tend to fall into three categories with some overlap: 1) non-stop bloggers that post several short, smart, informative, sometimes provocative posts every day; 2) bloggers without boundaries who grab you by the collar and pull you into their daily lives through truly excellent, highly specific, deeply personal writing; and 3) photog bloggers that skillfully use pics to compliment their substantive, solid writing.

Why don’t I just imitate them more?

I don’t want to blog fulltime while eating cake frosting because then I’d get dropped on Tuesday/Thursday night training rides and the GalPal would leave me for some hunkier dude. Then I’d have to join an on-line dating club which would preclude non-stop blogging.

I would like to self-censor myself less, but I don’t want to try to be provocative just for the case of being provocative because that would defeat the purpose of being more authentic. Also, I don’t know how to write more personally on-line without sacrificing the privacy of family and friends who never signed up to be blogging fodder.

And that leaves photography. As you can tell, I’m pretty hopeless there. Saturday I rode up the back of Mt. Saint Helen’s via Windy Ridge and Norway Pass roads. 57 miles, 5,577′ of climbing. Truly off the charts beautiful, even by Mt. Rainier/Cascade standards. It reminded me of Grindelwald in Switzerland. At the last minute, I tossed the camera in the gym bag in the car because I was already carrying three water bottles and some nutrition and I didn’t want the extra weight. Selfish I know. I think the minimalist in me is partly to blame. Even with the simplicity of digital data storage, the degree to which some people document their daily life via cameras and cam-corders strikes me as an odd, modern form of clutter. And I wonder if my ride may have been slightly less special if I had been thinking about documenting it for you and therefore stopping more frequently. Obviously there’s a large middle ground and I regret not having taken a few pics to share. I’ll try to do better.

To summarize, feedback in any form is greatly appreciated and I’m going to continue focusing on the process of writing as much stuff I want to go back and read later as possible.

Wednesday. . . another birthday tribute (of sorts).

Thanks for lurking.

Late Adaptor

Ever goggle yourself? I just did it to see if my new blog would pop up and I was glad that it did. Unfortunately though, a summary of my “Ratemyprofessor.com” entry also popped up and I’m very sorry to report I still score a big zero for “hotness”. Who cares that my other ratings are so complimentary, I want some chili peppers dammit (the symbol used to depict hotness)! My lovely wife was outraged when she first learned about this injustice and has committed to hacking into the system and rectifying things so that’s helped me move on.

A personal technology update. I’m still probably the only person over age twelve that doesn’t own a cell phone or mobile as some Euros refer to them. I also don’t have a Facebook page, could not care less about what Ashton Kutchar, Shaq, or Lance Armstrong are tweeting about, and only have music on my iPod nano (girly music according to my sister).

One of the stranger things about me though is I follow personal tech discussions fairly closely (David Pogue, Walt Mossberg, Farhad Manjoo). I’m addicted to macrumors.com and I’m anxiously awaiting the June 8th Mac Conference. How WEIRD is that, the last guy without a cell phone logging on daily to see the most recent screen shots of the soon to be released, new generation iPhone. You’re thinking off-the-hinges eccentric, but I really prefer “quirky”.

How is this lunacy explained? My interest in personal tech discussions is easier to explain than my non-conformity. I’m a social scientist at heart and I’m intrigued by the ways the technologies are changing how we relate to one another and our culture more generally. On the other side of the equation, one of my hang ups is the slow and steady dimunition of privacy. Another factor probably  is simply not being as social as most other people. Also, the longer I remain untethered (email is a whole ‘nother story), the longer the non-conformist part of me wants to stay untethered. How cool would it be to the the last untethered person (I’m thinking Newsweek cover story). I don’t begrudge anyone their smart phones or hand held computers, I have no illusion of having any impact on the inevitability of increased connectivity, and this post aside (remember Positive Momentum is a secret society), I don’t advertise my cell-less status.

That being said, I am ready to buy Apple’s Kindle killer whenever it comes out (probably first half of 2010 according to macrumors.com). I want an electronic reader and I have to confess to being intrigued by some of the iPhone apps. Maybe I should just buy an iTouch when it’s updated. I was impressed by a recent  iTouch to iTouch via Skype article I read. Maybe I should buy my lovely wife an iTouch too and then we can Skype away. Since she’s the only person who thinks I deserve a chili pepper, she’s the only person I want to talk to.

Should I buy an iPhone, iTouch, hold out for the tablet?

And yes, I own APPL stock; yes, all the references to their products in this post are subliminal; yes, tomorrow you’ll wake up and begin transitioning from that Seattle company’s products to APPL’s.

Is resistance futile and should I just create a Facebook account, start Twittering, join Linkedin, and upgrade the blog with all the social networking doodads? Why or why not? Has your personal tech enriched your life? Have the benefits outweighed the costs?

Care to sell me on digitizing my life?