Parents and Technology

I just found this article on Yahoo! News.

It is quite disturbing

There are two companies offering a service to parents WQN and Aegis Mobility – there is software and then a monthly fee. Then services track the kids and turn of their phones in certain locations.

WQN’s surveillance service promises more than just disabling the phone in cars. It can monitor a person’s whereabouts, notifying parents by text messaging when their children step out of designated zones or return home. It also can turn off a cell phone at school, preventing cheating by text messaging during classroom tests, based on a reading of the school’s location.

The question parents would have to ask themselves is whether they’d want to prohibit their children’s activities this way. That kid you’re trying to control might not be driving, but rather sitting on a train or a city bus or in the passenger seat of a buddy’s car.

It seems a whole set of technology tools that are part of enabling over parenting. sigh.

Nov 13th Kids Online: Balancing Safety and Fun – (un)confernece about the issues and best practices

I am working with Joi Podgorny and Denise Tayloe on this day following the Internet Identity Workshop Nov 10-12 in Mountain View, CA. You can register here on Event Brite. We are bringing together a range of practitioners and experts to work collaboratively for a day together.

Our goal is to leave the day with greater clarity around some core best practices and have next steps as an industry to help kids being safer online.

All of the attendees will make up the agenda together at the event itself. We do welcome ideas and suggestions for topics you hope get discussed the day of the event.

This is a day to dive in and work collaboratively on these kinds issues around kids online:

  • Who and what are we trying to protect digital kids from?
  • Are there standards and norms in practice that we can leverage to formalize best practices for industry?
  • Kids fake their ages to gain access to online content, do we as an industry care? If so, then?
  • How do we create best practices that are flexible based on age range, content and willingness for parental involvement by industry or the child?
  • How can we create cyber spaces that balance interesting and fun with safety?
  • What is the role of government in either defining or supporting best practices?

Who this (un) conference is for:

  • Online Community/Virtual World Managers
  • Policy officers and Security Officers at large companies
  • Consultants in the kids online space
  • Identity technologists
  • State Attorney Generals
  • Legislative Staffers
  • Parents and Kids
  • Academics in the field
  • Bloggers

Adult attendees of the conference are welcome to bring their children ages 10-25 to particiapte in the conversations. There will not be child care, this is about talking about the issues with the constituents we are talking about present.

(Kid’s Online is an Identity Commons Action Group)

This week the Internet Safety Task Force had a meeting this past week. dana boyd has a post about it happening here.

Here are some reports from the blogosphere worth reading:

Harry Lewis – More on Internet Safety
I was pretty shaken by the end of the first day of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force yesterday. I had a meeting right afterwards, which I entered by yelping a primal scream.

Benlog – Children vs. Anonymity
The day started with a few words from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal….I think the only statement I agree with is that parents should be empowered.

Surveill@nce St@te – State AGs Push Online Child Safety Snake Oil
Won’t someone think of the children?
Given the intense political pressure to do something about child safety online, and a complete lack of proven, peer-reviewed, and abuse-resistant technologies available on the market, a number of private companies have stepped in to fill the void…

Braden Cox – The Safety Chase
Discussions focused mostly on what technical solutions exist for addressing the perceived lack of online safety on social networking websites. But overall there’s still a need to connect the most important dot—do proposed solutions actually make children safer?

Jim Kertetter – Help line in the works for cyberbullying victims
Perhaps the biggest reason for that is students’ behavior: A recent survey of high school students done by the Teenangels found 70 percent of the kids surveyed share passwords with other people. The reasons are often innocuous, such as asking someone to check their e-mail for them, or to find a homework assignment for them. Often, teens in relationships will share passwords to assure one another they’re being faithful.

Saving Kids from Predators – parents blog their e-mail addresses

NYTimes:

From Connecticut’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal: “If for nothing else, this set of principles is a landmark and milestone because it involves an acknowledgment of the importance of age and identity authentication and a commitment to explore and develop those means,” he said. “If we can put a man on the moon we can do age and identity authentication. Today we form a partnership that will protect children , purge predators and expunge inappropriate content including pornography.”

I could highlight my usual point when it comes to sexual predators online….kids are far more vulnerable to being sexually abused AT HOME by people the know including family members. This fetish with predators online is a mass projection to avoid looking at this real fact.

Age and Idetntity in Second life

I just found this from someone linking to my WoW piece. It seems that Linden Lab will be doing age verification – from their blog:

We will shortly begin beta testing an age and identity verification system, which will allow Residents to provide a one-time proof of identity (such as a driver’s license, passport or ID card) and have that identity verified in a matter of moments.

Second Life has always been restricted to those over 18. All Residents personally assert their age on registration. When we receive reports of underage Residents in Second Life, we close their account until they provide us with proof of age. This system works well, but as the community grows and the attractions of Second Life become more widely known, we’ve decided to add an additional layer of protection.

Once the age verification system is in place, only those Residents with verified age will be able to access adult content in Mature areas. Any Resident wishing to access adult content will have to prove they are over 18 in real life….

Landowners are morally and legally responsible for the content displayed and the behavior taking place on their land. The identity verification system gives them new tools to ensure any adult content is only available to adults over 18 because unverified avatars will not have access to land flagged as containing adult content…..

The verification system will be run by a third party specializing in age and identity authentication. No personally identifying information will be stored by them or by Linden Lab, including date of birth, unless the Resident chooses to do so. Those who wish to be verified, but remain anonymous, are free to do so.

There is an extensive FAQ in the blog post. It seems that online life is going to get more complex. I wonder what vendor they are going to use for this. I wonder how it will work internationally.

The other thing I wonder about is how necessary is this. I kids are exposed to so much already. I am currently reading GenerationMe: Why Today’s Young American’s are more Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before by Jean M. Twenge. Some of the book talks about the current attitudes about sex and the sexual practices of young people. The Monica Lewinsky was all happening when they were in elementary school. They know what sex is and many many of them are doing it – lots are having oral sex (mostly the girls giving it to the guys) in middle school and by highschool many are sleeping around with a lot of partners ‘hooking up’ without really being in boyfriend girlfriend relationships. Yes they are doing it with their peers and not other adults but it is not like it is news to them. I am not condoning this trend of hyper sexually active young people. The number and range of these surveys means it is real not imaginary. I also don’t think they should have access to adult areas of Second Life. The issue is serious and I think there is a social dialogue about sex, its meaning would be a good thing to foster. It is a disconcerting to learn how casual it is being taken by youth however as the author points out imitating the way it is portrayed in the media. So what is the big deal with Avatars in a virtual world I wonder. I hope this question is not to much to ask and that I will not be harshly judged for having asked if we should ask this question.

Personally I gave up on SL 9 months ago for other reasons. I was fed up with downloading a new massive client to wander around an aimless 3D space. Then to top it all off the were hacked and you had to call them to get a new password. I also was annoyed the first thing you had to do was pick your name with some strange last name from a list they determined. Once you picked your name you couldn’t change it….it was the one thing persistent about you. I think online 3D has potential but I am convinced there will be worlds that leapfrog SL.

Here are some of the comments about the proposal on their site

I do not wish to have my personal information – my SSN or anything else, in the hands of a 3rd party organization – or even in the hands of SL. I am very cautious about what info I put out there – and considering how easily sites can be hacked, this is a security issue. Some of us have RL clearances and do not want more info out there – and as such – we will now be unable to access adult content? Let’s face it that’s why many of us put up a credit card for premium membership – to prove our age. Further proof is a burden on the players that we should not have to bear.

First, you should be aware it is illegal to require an individual to provide his/her social security number as a means of identification to anyone but the Federal Government. Second, if driver’s license and or SSN is provided to you or your agent you may become legally liable for the misuse, loss, or theft of that information for the purposes of fraud or identity theft. Good Luck.

A third party that LL trusts and isn’t giving us who this third party is, I’m taking issue with. The moment I give them my driver’s license, they will now own my name, address, license number, AND because I live in a state that puts the Social Security number on the driver’s license, they will have that as well. I’m not impressed with this action nor do I trust LL’s belief in this third party that they will not keep this data. Prove it!

“Driver’s license, passport or ID card” are you joking?

I think you need to come to grips with a few things. Half the residents in SL do not live in Puritanical America. Your ‘immature’ attitude toward sex and alcohol are not shared by the majority of people on Earth. There is no drinking age in most of Europe and Asia and most people look upon sex as a normal human activity.

What about those of us without passports, drivers’ licences or any form of national ID? You falsely assume that all adults have one of these things – not all of us drive, go abroad or live in countries with Big Brother-style ID card schemes.

The best bit IMO is we’re now expected to pay for the privilege of being treated like adults. Are we not mature enough to be given the responsibility of ignoring things we don’t want to see? The way I see it this system is good in theory but completely flawed in practice.

Once again, Linden Labs adopts a US-sentric attitude. US players only have to provide the last 4 digits of their Social Security numbers, while non-US residents have to provide a full National ID Number (whatever that is, and whatever countires use them) or a full passport number! What about people who have no National ID, or passport? What are they to do?

This sounds very heavy handed. It sounds like a roomful of lawyers, FBI Agents, and other law enforcement put the fear of Gawd in to Linden to have them take the extreme step of seeking partial social security numbers, and age verification via key documents. I believe the point has been raised the credit card verification is typically enough to meet age requirement guidelines.

As a UK resident, I do not feel comfortable about giving personal details to an as yet unamed data collection company, which I assume is US based.

With the current climate in the US as regards to Bush’s evesdropping on data communications to aid the War on Terror(tm), I do not want to end up on some US government database as belonging to a virtual porn-ridden community run by a bunch of subversive godless burnt-out californian commie hippies (Ann Coulter is hawt!!).

Unfortunately the $100 laptop is closer to reality

I am writing about this because it is one of the things happening in the tech world that seems really nuts to do. There is an article about it moving closer to reality.

Why? Isn’t good to get kids wired up? Won’t it give them advantages? I think it is good in culturally appropriate ways bring networking tools to people in the third world. I don’t think plunking down laptops for 10 million of the ‘poorest kids’ by the end of 2007 is a good idea.

How hard that is should be one key measure of the project’s success. One Laptop plans to send a specialist to each school who will stay for a month helping teachers and students get started. But Negroponte believes that kids ultimately will learn the system by exploring it and then teaching each other.

By July or so, several million are expected to reach Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan, Thailand and the Palestinian territory. Negroponte said three more African countries might sign on in the next two weeks. The Inter-American Development Bank is trying to get the laptops to multiple Central American countries.

I am particularly erked by this project because it feels just like western attempts at so called development in the past. We gave the third world free grain in the 50′s and 60′s and in doing so we found a place for our excess supply but also ended up collapsing local markets – reducing their long run ability to feed themselves.

Then there was the green revolution that brought mechanized agriculture, fertilizers, hybrid seeds and debt to big agriculture.

How about large scale infrastructure projects those were really awful…the recycling of petro-dollars into the third world. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is a good place to read more about that stuff. I studied Political Economy and Human Rights in college – I wrote my thesis on the Lost Opportunity for Sustainable Development in Palestine. I know all to well the way ‘big projects’ happen and largely ‘TO’ people in the third world they are not initiated BY people in the third world by by western trained elites and the people who manipulate them. Negroponte seems to have the White Man’s Burden in spades. Why because he is bearing a computer is it any different then past efforts?

Look at Elena Norberg-Hodge’s work she first went to Ladakh (basically the part of Tibet that has always been in India) in 1975 trained as an anthropologist she documented the culture as the west ‘arrived’ Hs has a book and movie called Ancient Futures: Learning from LadakHe. The International Society for Ecology and Culture is her organization.

In Ladakh and elsewhere, modern education not only ignores local resources, but worse still, robs children of their self-esteem. Everything in school promotes the Western model and, as a direct consequence, makes children think of themselves and their traditions as inferior.

when you introduce this Western schooling, you’re turning whole cultures, whole peoples, into failures.

These quotes are from excerpts that you can read below.

He has this slide in his TED talk.

The basic principles:
1) Children are our most precious natural resource
2) The solution to poverty, peace, environment is education.
3) Teaching is one but not the only way to achieve learning

I think he is missing a critical part of this analysis that western education is disconnecting people from their cultures.

More from Helena:
In every corner of the world today, the process called ‘education’ is based on the same assumptions and the same Eurocentric model. The focus is on faraway facts and figures, on ‘universal’ knowledge. The books propagate information that is meant to be appropriate for the entire planet. But since only a kind of knowledge that is far removed from specific ecosystems and cultures can be universally applicable, what children learn is essentially synthetic, divorced from the living context.

He talked about how Steve Jobs had been to africa and seen early on how kids just swam in this new medium. This is no doubt true. That’s what kids do is get into things. The question is deeper…it is about cultural context meaning and relivancdy.

More from Helena:
For the young Ladakhis, especially the teenaged boys, who are looking for an identity and a role model, this image [of modernity] has a very powerful impact.He speaks in his talk about how this worked in Maine (the US state) where they legislated one laptop per child in 2002 and 3 years later have great results. Ok those are western kids using western machines. He says the time for pilot programs is out…we know this works (works for WHAT?) and that if countries don’t buy one for every kid in their whole country then they are not eligible for the program.

He says that there is one thing people have an issue with noting that people “really don’t like to criticize it because it is a humanitarian effort and to do so would be stupid.” The one thing that people had an issue with is that they

Brian has written about the project’s lack of environmental consideration in several posts….The Race To Cheap,

Without an e-waste program in place, however, it may be a terribly great addition to the progress of industrial technology in polluting the entire world with its heavy metal laden products.

How can the industrialzed west spread complex, resource heavy products into every remote reach of the world, with no responsibility for their end of life care? The people receiving them have no capacity to deal with them, by definition.

Electronics Everywhere, for Kids

At the same time, the Semiconductor Industry Association reports some dizzying figures for growth of semiconductor sales of all kinds worldwide (basically, electronic components). Put that together with the science that is showing subtle and powerfully ill effects of chemicals from electronics on pregnancy and small children, and we have got what I call, a health issue.

If I am so against the $100 laptop then how do I propose the network expand? I do like the last/first mile projects that I first learned about at a conference in Santa Barbara. They do “Hybrid Real-Time, Store-and-Forward WiFi Mesh”

Helena Norberg-Hodge text that the quotes above are drawn from.

From an essay the Pressure to Modernize:
Western-style education
No one can deny the value of real education—the widening and enrichment of knowledge. But today in the Third World, education
has become something quite different. It isolates children from their culture and from nature, training them instead to become narrow specialists in a Westernised urban environment. This process has been particularly striking in Ladakh, where modern schooling acts almost as a blindfold, preventing children from seeing the very context in which they live. They leave school unable to use their own resources, unable to function in their own world.

For generation after generation, Ladakhis grew up learning how to provide themselves with clothing and shelter; how to make shoes out of yak skin and robes from the wool of sheep; how to build houses out of mud and stone. Education was location-specific and nurtured an intimate relationship with the living world. It gave children an intuitive awareness that allowed them, as they grew older, to use resources in an effective and sustainable way.

None of that knowledge is provided in the modern school. Children are trained to become specialists in a technological, rather than an ecological, society. School is a place to forget traditional skills, and worse, to look down on them.

Western education first came to Ladakhi villages in the 1970s. Today there are about two hundred schools. The basic curriculum is a poor imitation of that taught in other parts of India, which itself is an imitation of British education. There is almost nothing Ladakhi about it.

Most of the skills Ladakhi children learn in school will never be of real use to them. In essence, they receive an inferior version of an education appropriate for a New Yorker. They learn from books written by people who have never set foot in Ladakh, who know nothing about growing barley at 12,000 feet or about making houses out of sun-dried bricks.

This situation is not unique to Ladakh. In every corner of the world today, the process called ‘education’ is based on the same assumptions and the same Eurocentric model. The focus is on faraway facts and figures, on ‘universal’ knowledge. The books propagate information that is meant to be appropriate for the entire planet. But since only a kind of knowledge that is far removed from specific ecosystems and cultures can be universally applicable, what children learn is essentially synthetic, divorced from the living context. If they go on to higher education, they may learn about building houses, but these houses will be of concrete and steel, the universal box. So too, if they study agriculture, they will learn about industrial farming: chemical fertilisers and pesticides, large machinery and hybrid seeds. The Western educational system is making us all poorer by teaching people around the world to use the same industrial resources, ignoring those of their own environment. In this way education is creating artificial scarcity and inducing competition.

In Ladakh and elsewhere, modern education not only ignores local resources, but worse still, robs children of their self-esteem. Everything in school promotes the Western model and, as a direct consequence, makes children think of themselves and their traditions as inferior.

A few years ago, Ladakhi schoolchildren were asked to imagine their
region in the year 2000. A little girl wrote, ‘Before 1974, Ladakh was not known to the world. People were uncivilised. There was a
smile on every face. They don’t need money. Whatever they had was enough for them.’ In another essay a child wrote, ‘They sing their own songs like they feel disgrace, but they sing English and Hindi songs with great interest… But in these days we find that maximum people and persons didn’t wear our own dress, like feeling disgrace.’

Education pulls people away from agriculture into the city, where they become dependent on the money economy. Traditionally there was no such thing as unemployment. But in the modern sector there is now intense competition for a very limited number of paying jobs, principally in the government. As a result, unemployment is already a serious problem.

Modern education has brought some obvious benefits, like improvement in the literacy rate. It has also enabled the Ladakhis to be more informed about the forces at play in the world outside. In so doing, however, it has divided Ladakhis from each other and the land and put them on the lowest rung of the global economic ladder.
from an interview in Context:
A family would not have $100 in traditional Ladakhi society, and yet people are not poor, because their basic needs are met. But for the young Ladakhis, especially the teenaged boys, who are looking for an identity and a role model, this image has a very powerful impact.

I think this at least partly explains why, if you travel around the world, you see that in almost every culture on this planet, teenaged boys are desperately trying to get blue jeans and cassette players and sunglasses, the symbols of modern life. More than anything, the drive is a psychological one. We need to be much more aware of our impact on other cultures. And often, because they’re not aware of that, the impact of westerners’ presence is a very destructive one. But there are ways that one can try to change that.

These are exerpts from an interview in 1992.

You’re very critical of modern education. You write that “it not only ignores local resources, but worse still, makes Ladakhi children think of themselves and their culture as inferior. They are robbed of their self-esteem.” How does modern education rob Ladakhi children of their self-esteem?
On many different levels. We need to keep in mind that this is true everywhere, and it is a good example of why I’m saying that it is appropriate and relevant around the world. Just recently I overheard a Ladakhi teacher saying to her Ladakhi students, “Our best poet is Wordsworth. Now let’s read some Somerset Maugham.” The same thing is happening in Bali, Africa, South America. The fact is that Wordsworth is not their poet. The distance between this English poet and Ladakh or Bhutan or Bali buries their own history and heritage. It’s become so shameful that it isn’t even visible. It’s making their heritage and their resources invisible. It also robs them of self-esteem. Everything that they represent–and this is particularly true of earth-based or indigenous culture–is seen as primitive and backward. It inevitably is within this spectrum that we have created of progress, meaning away from nature, away from spontaneity, away from the uniqueness of individuals, of a particular culture and place. All the time towards a type of monocultural standardization which is inherently eurocentric. Interestingly enough, it isn’t just education itself, that is the schooling. At the same time the media operate to produce the same impact. Your sense of identity is being formed by stereotyped, very distant media images. All around the world they are literally Barbie doll and Rambo for little children. That Barbie doll bears no resemblance to who I am as a Ladakhi. Barbie doll is not who anybody is. So these distanced models are destructive for everybody, even in the West. No one can live up to those models. Anorexia and bulimia and a whole range of very serious disorders are directly related to this. So this alienation, trying to remove you into another culture that is completely alien to who you are, creates a deep sense of self rejection and loss of self-worth and self-esteem. It’s just heartbreaking to watch it.
In addition, the way that Western education robs people of self esteem is that this whole process is so alien that most students fail. When I say most, I mean ninety-eight percent fail. That means that overnight, when you introduce this Western schooling, you’re turning whole cultures, whole peoples, into failures. The sense is that you are stupid, inadequate, backward. I have people in the villages in Ladakh now saying that they’re like “asses,” a Ladakhi expression that says you’re really stupid, because they don’t speak English. The whole world is being made to feel inferior if they don’t speak perfect English.
What are the implications of that?

The implications are profound. It’s the single most important message. The implications are that your whole relationship to the universe changes. You feel a type of union and communion with the rest of life and with others. I would go so far as to say that I think that our human nature needs that sense of interconnectedness, that it’s deep within us, and that it’s the only way to happiness and even the only way to real love and compassion for others.

Something we haven’t touched on enough with education was that we talked about how people’s self-esteem is lost, but more important, perhaps, their self-reliance is also destroyed through education. So we put children in schools, whether in Ladakh or Sumatra, and give them a poor imitation of the same education that a child in New York gets. That means that first of all, during your entire schooling, you are robbed of the knowledge of how to survive with your own resources. You’re not taught anything about how to grow barley in Ladakh at 12,000 feet, how to use yaks, how to make houses out of the mud that is available there. Not a word about any of the activities that you need to make yourselves self-reliant. Instead you’re studying Wordsworth, mathematics and Western history. So when you finally graduate from that school you do not know how to survive in your own environment based on your own resources. You do know how to survive as a clerk or a specialist in an urban center, but those jobs are very few and far between. It’s a prescription for unemployment, for larger and larger numbers. Also, interestingly enough, the more education you get, the further away it pulls you from your local resources and environment. So if you’ve just had some schooling, you might still stay on in your region. If you have more education, you’ve got to go to New Delhi. If you have even more education, it’s off to the West. This is the brain drain, which again is a direct consequence of policy and planning.

Thers don’t like them much either for good reasons.
Darren:

You think these mini-computers will “address the world’s education problems”? There’s the difference–I don’t. Computers haven’t addressed the education problems here in the US, where computers are much more ubiquitous than they ever will be in the bush of Africa or the forests of southern Asia or Brazil.

Jim Heynderickx:

I think back to Redmond O’Hanlon’s Into the Heard of Borneo, which raised interesting questions of how first world products and services could have radical effects on indigenous cultures, and how the societies themselves could be permanently transformed by the integration. The end result could be a community that is much less sustainable and independent in the long run, or one that dissappears entirely.

So, I have one reaction that makes me think hard about how this is different or the same as missionaries building churches and converting the populations to Christianity. Is what is being provided stronger and better than what is being displaced? In pilot programs, the argument is that the laptops leverage the kid’s ability to learn and to teach each other. The laptops are about learning about learning, problem-solving, programming, the Papert approach, etc.

From the comments:

The difference seems to be that the programs that work start with teacher training, a clear idea of what goals will be accomplished in what classes using what software, and a lot of curriculum thinking around the idea. The programs that doesn’t work involved handing every kid a laptop and expecting teachers and students to create miracles. The latter sounds a lot like this project.