Remember the nanny cam? The little camera that could be embedded in a teddy bear so parents could record events in the home while they were out? Now imagine having the power to monitor your children in real time. Thanks to AT&T and their recently launched application called FamilyMap, parents can track cell phones that are on their plan – namely, the children’s cell phones. It is entirely marketed to parents as a tracking device for their children.
Applications like FamilyMap represent a culture of fear. The online demonstration opens with the key message, “Knowledge means peace of mind for parents.” AT&T is preying on parents’ fears and worries. It’s not about keeping children safe; it is about affirming parental fears that their children might be in places that… gasp… the parents don’t know about.
Some will argue that the application is really about safety and responsible parenting. And I have to wonder, safe from what? Crime all over Canada continues to decline (Statistics Canada, July 2009). And the media overplays the small amount of crimes that do happen. In 2002, George Gerbner coined the phrase, ‘Mean World Syndrome’ to explain how people who watch a lot of television begin to believe that the world is frightening. He noted that those who watch a lot of television tend to have a warped sense of reality and therefore less accurately assess threats to their (and therefore their children’s) safety.
While some parents suffer from Mean World Syndrome, FamilyMap also tells a story of parents who can’t let go of their children. The parents are so inextricably tied to their offspring that they can’t bear to not know where their children are. How exactly will kids learn independence if they know they are being monitored by their parents 24/7?
Purchasing an application such as FamilyMap is not going to safeguard the children. It is only going to aid parents in obsessing over each and every action of their kids.
I can’t help but think about the mockery that was made of the nanny cam. Remember the movies or TV shows where a teenager or conspiring friend would inevitably foil the parents’ plan to use the nanny cam on them? Parents were portrayed as fools who couldn’t understand that they needed to let their son/daughter grow up. The canned laughter in the background would indicate to viewers that the parents were being irrational and naïve.
That canned laughter is ringing in my ears now as I think about FamilyMap.