Privacy and security should be the least of our tech fears

As technology takes over more and more of our lives, it threatens not only our privacy or security, but our very wiring

I’m lying in a figurative abyss, covered in metaphorical smoking ash, gurgling down very real scotch because Pammy dropped a bomb on me. Last week, she decided we should resume our storm-tossed romance, but today she let me know why: She wants to have kids. Now I’m smoldering in my imaginary bomb crater wracked with fears, questions, and doubts.

Is it wrong to have kids on the far side of 40? On the minus side, there’s the sleep factor. On the plus side, the more you've seen other fools screwing up their children, the less likely you are to mess up your own … unless of course your post-50-year-old heart gives out and you're on the business end of a funeral before your kid hits puberty.

Then again, life has also taught me that maybe no parent anywhere can avoid screwing up their kids in some way. For example, friends of mine (yes, there are a few) who already have kids say I’d be in a superior position as a parent because I’m up on "all that techno stuff" that children apparently love and parents in their sad, '80s-style, analog existence seem to fear. But the more I observe said techno stuff, the more I find I'm unable to predict how it’ll affect another human and -- more to the point -- how other humans will affect it. That frightens me.

The Internet of things ain't no thing

What makes this uncertainty so scary is that it comes at you from unexpected directions. For example, you might assume I’m talking about the coming Internet of things-ageddon and the terror facing someone whose birth predates the Walkman to try and function in an age where houses will know if they’re occupied based on scanned body temp and driving a car won’t require a license, only a password. But you’d be wrong. Those are the obvious directions.

I’m not so worried about the Internet of BigPilesofPlasticCrap. Sure, Veracode published a study detailing the shocking, entirely unexpected news that IoT is set to spew an endless river of ultratalkative, shiny knickknacks designed with security as a drunken afterthought (at best) and the trend will give cyber thieves, online pervs, familial stalkers, and power-mad technocrats an unneeded boost.

But let’s face it: Veracode didn’t really break new ground with this one. Who thought IoT was going to bring more security to the Web? If you raised your hand, you should be French kissing a light socket. Privacy is dead, and digital security is inevitably flawed, to put it lightly. Educating my kids about online threats from these sources will be fairly straightforward and certainly factor into my ongoing hair loss.

Invisible Boyfriend/Invisible Girlfriend: A cautionary tale

What really scares me is the myriad ways that technology can bend my future kids’ heads without my being able to predict those effects at all. A recent piece by Digg’s Steve Rousseau detailing the online service Invisible Boyfriend/Invisible Girlfriend (IBIG) springs to mind. Rousseau billed the piece as joke-turned-investigative journalism ride with his experience mimicking that of IBIG’s founders. The IBIG geniuses supposedly began the service as a hipster ha-ha but saw it flourish, then mutate such that now they have, er, something else, and they’re sitting in overpriced coffee bars trying to figure out how they feel about it.

I was less interested in Rousseau’s journalism or IBIG’s existential angst than in what it showed me about how these people grew up. Ostensibly, IBIG was created as a monthly service targeting people beyond the 25-year-old, you’re-a-true-grownup-now barrier, designed to stop their mommies from torturing them about still being single. To get Mom to shut her cake hole, IBIG lets its clients offer up their phones and display a fictional romantic texting relationship and other manufactured “evidence” that someone finds her child tolerable. I usually hate it when people do this, but in this case it’s justified:


I understand the need to shut Mom up on that particular question, believe me. But learning to deflect the question via actual face-to-face discussion increases conversational adroitness -- a skill that might, ironically, help you eventually charm a mate. Learning to look your mom in the eye and tell her to lay off is taking steps toward being your own human being. Paying $25 a month to carry on a fake relationship so that you can fake-self-righteously provide mom a glimpse of your text log as evidence of a truly pathetic lie -- what does that teach you? How to be a rubber-spined, parent-dominated weasel for the rest of your life?

Rousseau’s piece goes on to detail how IBIG changed from being a chatbot-operated service to one that apparently uses crowdsourcing to hire an army of fake text romancers and how the change disturbed his appreciation of the service. Maybe you’ve guessed by now, but that’s not what’s disturbing me.

Tech's twists and turns

What’s disturbing me is that online perverts, credit card scammers, and psycho high school prom dates who want to spy on my yet-unborn daughter from a blueberry bush across the street after only one sock hop -- I can see all them coming. But smart kids taking advantage of emerging tech and twisting it to feed burgeoning character defects I’m not even aware of, there’s no way to predict that.

If I did commit to parenthood, I’d want to take it a little further than simply making sure my son stayed out of meth labs or my daughter off the stripper pole. I’d want them to grow up to be not only functional, but strong. Technology like IBIG undermines that goal in the most fundamental way and it’s hardly the only offender. More character killers are popping up by the nanosecond, and even as a full-time skimmer of the InterWebs, I can’t possibly keep track of them all. How do you protect your kids from that?

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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