It is a Leash Not a Phone
Many years ago, when my daughter was in middle school, the mother of one of her close friends gave her daughter a cell phone. As far as I know, she was the first of her group to have one.
At the outset, this seemed like a splendid thing and it was, no doubt, the source of much envy. Then reality set in, as it has an unpleasant way of doing. Cell phones did not really do much in the mid-1990s, at least in comparison with the ones we have today.
There was also a subtler question. If you are the only person with a cell phone, whom do you call? First adopters in a space like cell phones are sorely in need of subsequent adopters.
As it happened, this girl was unusually smart, and she was possessed of a sharp wit.
“It is a leash not a phone,” she said.
The only people she could call or who could call her were her parents. What fun is that unless you need money or a ride?
Fast forward a quarter century and we now have Life360, described as “the world’s leading real time location-sharing app… the best way to coordinate with family and friends. Get automatic notifications when your family comes and goes from home, work and school and when they complete drives.”
This seemingly benign quest for safety conceals a pernicious truth. The now-grown woman who starred in the “it is a leash not a phone” saga would not have had the slightest interest in the location of her parents when she was at college in the early 2000’s. They, on the other hand, would have had an obsessive interest in her whereabouts.
True, Life360 did not exist then so it was not an actual problem for her, but it exists now, and it is not very difficult to extrapolate from these carefully curated anecdotes to imagine how today’s college students might feel about it.
According to the Washington Post (Big Mother is Watching You), “parents are using tracking apps to watch the kids at college.”
There is much room for mischief here. Even older people, not widely known to be tech savvy, can generally use mapping software to determine that their little darlings took restful slumber although not in their own personal dorm rooms.
Restful nights spent in the same unapproved location lead to raised parental eyebrows at Thanksgiving, but restful nights at multiple unapproved locations can put a damper on entire Christmas vacations.
Some parents link future payments of tuition and fees to a requirement that the little darling keep the Life360 on at all times.
General Secretary Xi Jinping, a noted fan of surveillance, is only doing a little better than the helicopter parents of today’s college students but, to be fair, he has more money for surveillance gear than they do.
Thus far, this is a story about excess parental hovering. If they are that concerned, why are they sending the little darlings to college at all?
Perhaps there is a need for a nice support group to work out the conflict between high-end hovering and the desire for prestigious SUV stickers?
Actually, the workarounds to the excess hovering problem are far more interesting because college students have a historical edge over parents in such matters.
An early example was a college bar that named itself “The Bookstore” so that charges on mummy’s credit card would not arouse suspicion.
Here is one easy solution to Life360.
Two female roommates decide to date two male roommates and all four are shackled to Life360.
Male roommate #1 who is seeking a night of restful slumber at the dorm room of female roommate #1 exchanges his phone with female roommate #2 who is doing the same thing at the dorm room of male roommate #2. The phones are just where they should be even though the phone owners are not, and Life360 is none the wiser.
There is peace and harmony in the animal kingdom.
To be sure, this clever solution is offset by giving your girlfriend’s (or boyfriend’s) roommate access to the secret treasure trove of scandalous information that might be found in the exchanged phones.
At college, roommate loyalty is sometimes greater than loyalty to significant others, but this is for the students to resolve not the parents.
Sort of the point of college, isn’t it?