Over on Blindside there’s an interesting look at the latest developments in location-based services and their many uses, from tracking vehicle fleets to promoting the independence of elderly people. Meanwhile the manufacturer of RfID-chipped school uniforms is pointing out their advantage:
“The system saves valuable lesson time, often wasted in registration and monitoring”
Actually registration isn’t a waste of time. As a teacher, it’s an opportunity to make individual contact, however briefly, with each child in your class. You say the name, look up and make eye contact. You can even add “happy birthday,” or “feeling better?” “nice to see you back.” Little bits of human interaction to oil the social wheels. In that second or two of looking, you may also notice something that prompts you to have a quiet word later. Perhaps a child looks as if he’s been crying, or he’s a ghastly shade of green. Maybe he’s grinning like an idiot and is bursting with excitement. It’s a ‘pastoral care’ thing. Given the rhetoric of ‘every child matters’, it’s a shame if registration and class admin time is seen as a series of tedious chores where children are as inconvenient as passengers in a busy bus schedule.
To take more examples, from the Blindside blog: ‘Telecare’ for frail, elderly people living alone is a good idea when it acts as an alert in an emergency. It’s a very bad idea if it stops the warden of a sheltered housing scheme popping in at intervals to say hallo to someone who may be alone all day. Remote parental monitoring of a child’s Internet use may sound appealing, but it is just that – remote. What about virtues like trust, conversation and joining in?
Then there’s the fraught area of monitoring each room in your home remotely, or the daycare webcam that allegedly “bridges parental bonding”. What about the child’s ‘bonding’? And it must be a weird, psychotic experience to have your parents comment on the events of your day when they weren’t actually present.
It’s not only gizmos that have the capacity to mechanise the space where a relationship ought to be. Consider the new check-list assessment and profiling tools (“have you ever been sexually abused?” Click.) An experienced social worker or counsellor will tell you that information isn’t knowledge. Just as important is the way someone tells their story, the order in which they put events and the quality of the relationship they form with the worker.
Gadgets and databases certainly have the ability to make life a lot easier. I’m very glad of wifi, my mobile, my laptop and the thing my mother wears on her wrist to call for help if she falls over. But there can be too much of a good thing: they also have the potential to turn life into a ruthlessly efficient industrial process, which doesn’t seem to be a very healthy environment in which to grow happy children.