What if you could keep your child under constant surveillance?
Arkangel, the episode of Black Mirror directed by Jodie Foster that aired Friday night, had me cheering -- which is a little odd, since it was an incredibly horrifying tale of what can happen when parents get what some think they want: The chance to watch what their child is doing every minute, and shield them from all misery and harm.
Sara is a little girl whose mom (Rosemarie DeWitt) implants an "Arkangel" chip in her that allows her -- the mom -- to see what Sara sees, whenever she tunes in on her tablet. It also allows parents to pixilate any disturbing things they do NOT want their kids to see, including violence, blood -- even two people arguing. So when the girl's grandpa has a heart attack right in front of her, the girl can't see him, only pixels. As the subtitle of the episode puts it: "The key to good parenting is control."
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, basically the same things we're seeing today, without the Arkangel device. As we try to shield kids from all risk, frustration, and unhappiness, we aren't giving them the chance to develop some street smarts and resilience. Nobody wants kids to be mercilessly bullied, but in the Black Mirror episode as in everyday life, kids need a bit of exposure to the imperfect world. In fact, that's why therapy for highly fearful people is called "exposure therapy." By being gradually exposed to the thing they worry about or fear, people grow less sensitive to it, and thus can go about their normal lives. It is the opposite of giving those fears control over your life.
The Arkangel device gives parents just a little more power than tech is actually giving parents today. Already there are apps that let you watch on a map where your child is walking, see what they're looking at online, hear what's going on around them in real time, read their texts, scan their SnapChat photos and even tell their temperature and heart rate from afar. A new app being developed by a company called Kiddo promises to compare the food your child eats with the exercise their Fitbit shows them getting. If calories consumed are greater than calories burned, the app then lets the parent prescribe a certain amount of extra exertion: "That sundae means you have to do 23 more jumping jacks, Olivia!" We are told we can and must control everything our children do/see/think/worry about and, apparently, eat.
Parents are just starting to understand that with great power -- in fact, with superpowers never before afforded to human beings -- comes great angst. After all, if we CAN watch everything our kids do -- must we? What about our relationship to the child? What about privacy? What about our own happy memories of the time we spent far beyond our parents' eyes and ears? Are our kids our prisoners, to be constantly supervised? Our patients, to be constantly monitored? Or our pets, to be chipped?
That all feels wrong. And yet: What if something "bad" happens and we could have prevented it with more vigilance?
That's the push the marketers are giving parents: Now that you CAN see all and prevent all -- why wouldn't you?
Kudos to Arkangel for showing us, in Gothic detail, exactly where that could lead.
And let's hear it for trust. - L.