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Sunday
Jul272014

How the hell do they know?

I don't think I have an irrational fear of my privacy being invaded, but I have to say I was pretty creeped out getting this "gift" from Barnes & Noble in my e-mail last week.

To the best of my memory, I have never signed up for any Kids' Club or told B&N or any vendor that I have a granddaughter, her name, or her birthday.

How the hell do they know? 

Tuesday
Jul152014

When's the last time you cleaned your home(page)

My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.
                                                                            ~ Erma Bombeck

It's summer and I've delegated most jobs to people in my department far more competent, so I can tackle some of the important but not urgent tasks that pile up during the year. One of these is reviewing our district website. I rank the task right up there in pleasantness with cleaning the rain gutters. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

For better or worse, this has been my job since the district first had an online presence starting in 1996. (Thank you Internet Achieve and its WayBack Machine for making finding this old homepage easy.) We got an early start thanks to generous parents who ran an early Internet/webhosting company. We've since switched ot a commercial provider, of course, and there is a movement afoot to move most content to GoogleSites. So webhosting is a dynamic process in our district.

Pages have a way of going bad very quickly. A page with a two-year-old date is ancient in Internet Years*. If a page advertises an event, the page is outdated the minute the event passes. On a website like ours with distributed responsibility for departmental web maintenance, any change in personnel dates the contact information. A lack of confidence in the ability to update one's website may also play a factor in slow changes to websites.

Our distict has long had a set of webpage guidelines, last updated in 2012. One standard, virtually ignored, reads:

At the bottom of the page, there must be the date of the page's creation, the date of the last revision of the page and the name and email address of the staff member responsible for the page. 

I wish I had an efficient way of knowing when pages were dated without having to view each one. Do you use a webhosting service that makes this a more efficient task?

Anyway, as unpleasant at it may be, when was the last time you gave your website a good home(page) cleaning?

Oh, while I was on the WayBack Machine, I checked out my earliest personal web presence - March 1, 2000. Who is that good-looking youngster gracing the page anyway?

* If one dog year equals seven human years, one Internet year must equal at least twenty human years.

Tuesday
Jul152014

If you could give your child a superpower, would you?

With great power comes great responsibility. - Spiderman's Uncle Ben

Were you as a parent able to give your child a "super" power, would you do so? Let's take the ability to teleport - move from one location to another by just imagining the destination - for example. There would be personal advantages - ability to see the world at no cost; time spent on getting to school could be better spent in other ways; and surely there would be vocations (courier, spy, journalist, salesperson, artist, etc.) that would be enhanced by such a power.

Of course, as we know from countless movies about those with such abilities, the temptation to use this power for unethical purposes would be great. Think into a bank, grab a pile of cash, and think back out. Why work at all? Such a gift might also be dangerous were your child to teleport into a wall or the vacuum of outer space. For many parents, the dark side of such a gift would outweigh the benefits, with the parent perhaps projecting their own ethical weakness on to their child.

While teleportation, telekinesis, invisibility, x-ray vision, flight, great strength, and indestructibility are the stuff of Marvel comic book characters, parents do have a similar choice to make of a seeming superpower right now.

Isn't giving a child instant, continuous access to information by providing her with a smartphone, tablet, or laptop with wireless connectivity providing a power that only a few years ago was unimaginable? Instantly finding a seemingly inexhaustible source of information - from trusted and questionable sources, from trusted and questionable "experts, or from trusted and questionable friends. Doesn't such a device give children an inexhaustible source of entertainment and mindless distraction? Doesn't such a device give children the power to communicate to the world without censorship, filters, or retraction? Doesn't such a device give kids the ability to connect with complete strangers - some trustworthy and some questionable? Doesn't such a device even give users the ability to potentially view the activities of others without their knowledge - and have their activities view surreptitiously as well?

Yes, we can deny access to these devices to kids, but it's getting harder to do. And given the positive tasks that they help kids accomplish, should we? 

Here is are questions I have for parents (and educators): if your child had a superpower like teleportation, at what age would you start teaching him how to use this power ethically, safely, and productively? Would you rely on the school alone to teach these skills? Would you deny your child this ability, knowing that age 18, she was free to use it as an adult?

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