Jan. 12, 2009— -- Question: if you had the ability to track your child's every movement during the day, would you do so? Or is this an example of helicopter parenting taken to extremes? How about tucking a portable GPS unit in her backpack?
Partaking in my Saturday morning ritual of coffee accompanied by a laptop to scan through the daily newspapers, I came across a Toronto Star article by reporter Robert Cribb, who has been testing the Entourage PS, a portable device offered by a Canadian company called Blackline GPS. (Wired reviewed an earlier version of this technology by the same company in 2008.)
The twist on this one is that Robert used the GPS to track his 5-year-old daughter during her walk to school, slipping the GPS into her backpack, then monitoring it remotely (on his computer screen or Blackberry).
The father in me definitely sees the appeal of this capability — it's very similar to the initial wave of comfort I felt with the concept of being able to log on and watch the goings on at the daycare on webcam.
And like the webcam, the initial "that's an awesome idea!" phase wore off a bit the more I thought about it, replaced with the feeling that maybe these things are going just a little too far.
In theory, tracking by GPS is a great parental advantage, but what happens if your kid ducks round a corner to look at something? Maybe it violates the instructions of coming straight home, but kids will be kids.
You wouldn't know any better under normal circumstances. However, as a red blip on a screen that suddenly deviates from course, do you freeze and stare at it, leap out of a meeting to drive screaming across town to the rescue, or call 9-1-1 in case it's a potential abduction?
What if their backpack is swiped or picked up accidentally at school? These things happen and the mix-up could end with police chasing some innocent parent driving their kid home with the wrong backpack.
It's costly, too: You'd have to fork out CN$350 for the GPS unit itself, plus $15 a month for a service subscription.
If Tracking by GPS Appeals to You, There Are Alternatives
And then there's the issue of technology falling into the wrong hands. It's not like this isn't a secure service, but we've seen far too many examples of military communications being intercepted, and nothing is hack-proof.
A planned neighborhood in my city was built with a central playground equipped with video cameras and all the houses were prewired to be able to watch the park on their TVs. The idea sounded great at first — your kids run off to happily and securely play at the park and you can watch them while you cook dinner.
But like things have a way of doing, the technology was subverted and squabbles broke out over people watching "inappropriately" and the like.
Maybe you gain a bit of personal safety, but potentially lose some with a smattering of confusion and civil discord thrown in with each of these advances. At any rate, if the concept appeals to you, there are also alternatives that offer similar functionality without the associated costs.
An iPhone, for instance, provides the GPS, and apps like Where the Flock (WTF) can give you info like the updated location and speed of not just one person, but anyone you know who packs an iPhone and cares to share with you. Of course an iPhone and data plan is going to cost a little more than $15 month, but it's also not a one-trick pony.
Personally, I'm going to continue to do it the old-school way — I'm fortunate enough to be able to walk my kids to school and back most days (at least while they're young enough to still let me), but once they're teenagers, they may each just get a WTF-equipped iPhone for their birthday.