George Orwell was right, of course, but he was twenty-five years too early. And twenty-five years too old.
As much as any civil libertarian feels put upon by the encroaching, omnipresent surveillance of the state, far worse off are their kids. Children — free of any such trivialities as Constitutional privacy protection — are monitored and cataloged and ear-tagged in ways that their parents can’t even imagine, and very often happily participate in. It’s all in their best interest, of course, the saying goes. But the implications of encasing our children in the physical and emotional bubble-wrap of good intentions are both profound and vastly under-appreciated. It’s not a new idea that kids today are coddled by perpetually terrified parents, but the extent of the coddling goes well beyond the home, into nearly every institution that makes up a child’s world.
An example: the other day, I dropped my kids off at their school late — Daddy needs his rest, dammit, and sometimes dawn comes too early — and by the time I got to work, I had this e-mail waiting for me:
Creeeeeeeepy. Creepier still, later in the day I got a phone call from a robot — a robot, operated without a hint of irony — that informed me of the same thing. My wife got the mail and call, too. And the record of this transgression — and the record of the notification of the record — sits, still, in the bowels of the Ministry of Education. Message sent and received: You just try skipping class, little mister. You just try. We’re watching you.
My children are now 11, nine and eight, and are coming into the prime years of adolescent mischief making. But in the age of computers and cameras and databases and twelve-foot-high fences and involuntary geolocation reporting and home drug testing kits and thermal imaging and full-body X-rays and God knows what else, is it even worth bothering? Is it even worth trying to bother?
I was never much of a teen-age troublemaker, and the risk aversion born in that time has followed me my whole life. Once, in junior high, I tried to forge my mother’s signature on an absence excuse, and the repercussions of that act — laughably minor from the safe distance of a few decades — left me with a disinclination towards anything that might cause someone in authority to give me a stern look. It hasn’t been a wholly bad thing, my adult timidity, but I can feel it hanging on my shirt tail any time I get anywhere close to the edge of what’s expected of me. It may be irrational, but it’s built in.
So, as part of the effort to give my kids neuroses entirely separate from my own, I want them to risk, to dare, to p