EDUCATION MATTERS:

I’ve vented in this space before about kids and their cell phones in the classroom, and would like to tack on a few more concerns, knowing full well that I go against the current on this one.

There’s no getting around the fact cell phones are here to stay, but there’s also no getting around the fact that they can be a real nuisance. I still can’t get used to complete strangers invading my space with their conversations or gabbing away as they fly past me in their cars (despite the new statute outlawing it). Our school has a sensible limited-use policy that looks good on paper but, like the above law, is very difficult to enforce.

In addition to the distraction that cells cause in virtually every classroom, they also offer whole new opportunities to cheat. Unless a teacher is willing to continually walk around the class looking for kids texting or taking pictures, it’s very difficult to detect.

The phones are so tiny that they can be cupped in a hand or tucked into a convenient pocket and used to take pictures of a test and then sent to someone who will be taking the test later in the day. Cellular technology has improved drastically in the last few years, and the quality of pictures, even in capturing fine print, provides a certain opportunity that some kids find all but irresistible.

I understand that even more drastic improvements and changes in cell technology are just around the corner. (Oh boy!)

But there is a new wrinkle to this technology that raises concerns more serious by far than classroom disruptions and cheating. There are companies offering spy software that enable anyone so inclined to tap into virtually every communication of another cell-phone user. Our privacy isn’t what we think it is.

Advertisers of these invasive programs hold forth the possibility of “catching a cheating spouse” or “protecting children,” but what they don’t advertise is that they’ve created a perfect tool for stalkers to monitor every call, every text, and every movement of the cell-phone user of their choice. And it’s completely invisible, undetectable and untraceable.

Every time a targeted cell-phone user makes a call or sends a text, it registers on the cell or the computer of someone out there who has purchased the spyware and is looking to monitor someone else’s private world. The program also provides intruders a list of all outgoing and incoming phone calls.

What is perhaps most disturbing in all of this is the ability of someone using this technology to keep track of the physical whereabouts of another person. If I, for instance, want to know where you are and who you are with at any moment, I can do that as long as your cell phone is somewhere near you. Built-in speakers in most cells can be remotely activated and would allow me to listen in to what you and anyone around you are saying.

The exact location of the person being stalked can also be determined should the stalker wish to encounter the victim in person at a time and place of his choosing. Since most cell users are never far from their beloved phone, they would be the wiser for knowing that their private lives, in fact their every movement, is anything but private.

Like so many advances in technology, there is often a downside that reminds us that progress comes with a price. I am reminded of a few lines from the movie “Inherit the Wind.” Spencer Tracy speaks to a jury about that price in Hollywood’s rendition of the 1920s Scopes Trial.

“Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. We can conquer the air, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline. We can use our telephones, but we lose privacy and the charm of distance.”

Perhaps in the future we will knowingly and willingly sacrifice personal privacy to an increasingly interconnected social network, accessible to all, users and abusers alike. Cellular technology puts us all more in touch with each other and with a world of information at our fingertips, but if it comes with the price of increasing unwarranted intrusions into my life, I’ll live out my years in relative, but splendid, isolation.


 DAN KIMBER is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, where he has taught for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@ sbcglobal.net.

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