Saturday, April 17, 2010

Two Minutes Older: Being Watched

“We develop in the child a desire for truth, decorum, courtesy and high-achievement,” the flyer for yet another international school says. Further down the same page, in bold red, is what the school is advertising as a Unique Feature. I am sceptical, because under Sport, they have claimed to offer carom facilities to the students. And chess. (Why did they leave out book cricket, I wonder?) Maybe this unique feature really means the children will have a bedside lamp so they don’t have to spend a fortune on batteries for their torch?

I find I'm wrong.

Unique Feature: We intend to set up CCTVs and web cams so that parents can see their children online from offices or houses, during day care hours. The intention is that the parent may be reassured of the child’s well being and also provide a platform for the parents to actually view their child learn and socialise.

This is so many kinds of wrong that I am thankful to see this is, so far, only an intention. Maybe prospective parents will be as outraged as I am and this surveillance of under-18s will come to nothing?

On the other hand, who knows about parents these days? Though Facebook’s terms of service say only those who are 18 years and over can use the social networking site, I find many children as young as nine on it. They get around this by providing a false date of birth.

Parents go through some traumas about whether to allow their children access to or forbid them from entering the virtual world. But once they’ve caved and allowed their minor children into social networking or other forms of interaction online, I don’t think any parent is going to jump through too many ethical hoops before s/he decides to ‘supervise’.

It’s a flexible word: it could mean anything from adding your child as a friend on Facebook to checking their email, to following their every move online because you’re really worried about stalkers and other online predators. It appears that even with children, privacy must be sacrificed to safety.

Once the necessity of something is acknowledged, it becomes easier to be persuaded about the means. Terror threats? Of course our malls and stores and airports need to be watched. Naturally, streets and stations, ATMs and hotels should have CCTVs. Of course we need to be x-rayed. You think it’ll help if every single thing about me – including my biometrics, where I’ve travelled and how many bank accounts I have – is accessible with one identification (such as the UID)? Sure! If you assure me it’s for my own good.

As adults living in a fearful world that looks increasingly like something Philip K. Dick might have dreamt up, I can’t help wondering if there isn’t some kind of perverse vengefulness at work here: we’re watched all the time. Why not our children? It is for their own safety. For their own good.

What could surveillance possibly add to the school experience? What are they going to do – haul up the chalk-thrower? suspend the one who passes notes? send emails home complaining that so-and-so was caught sneaking coffee into her milk during breakfast and they have the footage to prove it? Can it be that parents and teachers think this is a good way to prevent child abuse, assault and so on? (Have they watched Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex Aur Dhokha?)

Any ‘truth, decorum, courtesy and high-achievement’ the students of this school might attain is likely to be false because they’re too busy trying to be someone else for the camera. Isn’t adolescent self-consciousness bad enough without this?

I might be overreacting. But it’s been thought of and that is sufficient for the idea to gain traction some day. It won’t take much to convince us that our trust in our children must be backed by evidence. Or to believe that the world is a complicated and dangerous place, and schools no less so, and that such measures are necessary.

The power that adults wield over children is vast enough. The least we can give them is some privacy in which to come into their own selves in their own time.

(An edited version of this in Zeitgeist, the Saturday edition of The New Indian Express.)

Won't be accessing mail for a few days now. Will respond to comments when I return.


Banno said...

Apparently a school in Nagpur has put this in practice years ago. Avinash Deshpande has made a docu on that. I haven't seen it yet. But will soon. It just seems freaked out to me. Every where you turn there is a TV screen, or a camera, or a music system. Cacophony.

km said...

Decorum? Courtesy?

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Is this a training school for young geishas?

I don't know what to say. I live in a society that often complains about the loss of privacy but also invents new means of invading it.

Maybe this is the new reality and we better accept it. But seriously, web-cams to watch over your kids? Oh, and you should definitely read this bit of news that's become somewhat of a big deal here.

Falstaff said...

Oh, look: Pedophile TV! Just send your kid to our school and you can get your kicks watching other people's children for FREE! Don't have children? Just hack into our feed! Heck, for an extra $9.99 a month, we'll even put cameras in the bathrooms!


Falstaff said...

(P.S.) Not a pervert but looking to make some money kidnapping? Our live feed not only gives you all the information you need to select the best targets, but also provides the location of each child in real time. Perfect for a quick snatch and grab!

dipali said...

Big Brother/Mother/Father/Teacher etc. etc. is watching you.
Terrifying. km's link underlines this

km said...

for an extra $9.99 a month, we'll even put cameras in the bathrooms!

Heck, for $9.99/mo, I want Smell-o-Vision.

Maybe not.

??! said...

How is it that nobody has taken up this issue on the grounds of invasion of privacy?

Just because a parent is allowed to watch over their child does not allow them to monitor other children. Is something this simple not apparent to people? Or is this the kind of school that charges so much money that it attracts parents whose kids are fashion accessories in the first place?

Anonymous said...