In 1930, Grant Wood created the classic “American Gothic” that reflects a simpler time, when people knew their neighbors.
The masterpiece has been the inspiration for countless imitations. Like this one of Mike McNair and his bride. They captured a moment in time and were proud to tell the world of their delight.
A few years later that joy was compounded when they became parents. And once again Mike announced his joy. It’s hard not to be excited at such a moment.
And we’re often told to live for the moment.
So, what could possibly go wrong? How could a simple birth announcement be a harbinger of problematic public policy? An indication that governments might not have what it takes to make sound decisions for constituents.
Because it reveals a profound lack of appreciation for the reach of unintended consequences.
Parents and governments wield great power to affect other people’s lives. Mothers and fathers are responsible for their minor children and, as part of that responsibility, make decision on behalf of their children every day. From mundane to medical and everything in between. What they eat. Where they go to school. Whether they are inoculated against childhood diseases. These issues are well understood and commonplace.
But with the Internet being barely a quarter-century old, its long-term effects are not well understood by many intelligent, proud, and well-intentioned parents.
Gordon’s papa, a self-described ‘nerd, wonk, idealist’, is Prime Minister Trudeau’s Executive Director for Cabinet and Legislative Affairs; yet the information he volunteered to the world makes it easy to wonder if he truly understands the implications.
Does he understand that sharing the details of Gordon’s birth for all the world to see could pose a problem in later years?
Or is it simply a reflection of an excited new parent?
Many parents worry about their children’s future financial stability. Few new parents think about their newborn’s future borrowing potential. Or that it will be 18 years before their child discovers the are among the millions who can’t get the job they want because they have a terrible credit rating — all because identity thieves had 18 years to destroy it by using the tombstone information his proud papa provided.
The profound lack of awareness of the unintended consequences of such privacy ignorance allows parents to believe that having their 6 month old babies use digital devices every day — long before they can talk or are toilet trained — is a good thing. Or that there’s nothing wrong with allowing 26 percent of 2 year olds and 38 percent of 4 year olds to use digital devices for at least an hour a day.
All of this points to the long-overdue need to make privacy a mandatory part of the curriculum starting in kindergarten.
Teaching digital citizenship is a good start. So is coding. But teaching kids to code without having them understand the privacy implications is like teaching a kid to adjust the air pressure in your car’s tires, then flip them your car keys and tell them to stay safe on the roads — without teaching them anything about stop signs, red lights, or the rules of the road in your neighborhood.
And definitely an opportunity to increase awareness about privacy — to youngsters and their parents. Because it is today’s parents who are in positions to make many changes and to demand others. To the laws. To school curricula. To public policy.