Is the Culture of Control Getting Out of Control?

In his book Edited Clean Version, author Raiford Guins discusses the nature of control culture and the technologies used to enforce such ideologies. Similar to the construction of hyperlink pathways that shrouds pre-determined connections under the illusion of control, information superhighways create the perception of control. As Guins notes, “Control is enabled through the control of options” (7), or, more specifically, through the control of options by a parental expert. As the new digital front door, television and computer present new obstacles in the securitization of one’s habitat, and it is up to the parental units to guard this new entrance.

ChildBut where exactly do we draw the line between the need for control and the need for privacy and experimentation? Because as it stands, there doesn’t appear to be a line at all. Television V-chip technologies enforce a “governor-governed” relationship between the child (or, the controlled, the governed) and the parent (the controller, the governor). According to Guins, “governing content through the V-chip’s blocking capabilities is also a governing of conduct located in the expertise of the parental function” (30). Meaning, by controlling the technology and the content that it produces, parents aim to directly shape their child’s conduct. Such functions, like time-period based blocking, filtering, or transmitted ratings-based blocking (31), allow parents to determine what their children should be watching and for how long.

My question is, if the child has reached the age where they are able to watch television without an adult in the room, shouldn’t they be old enough to determine what they’re watching? Guins’ description of control technologies as mediating instruments that allow them to engineer an atmosphere in their home also leaves the impression that, put plainly, parents are allowing technology to do their job. Rather than discuss with the child what is and is not appropriate to watch on television or rather than actually sitting down with the child to watch TV to ensure the content is appropriate, the v-chip and other blocking technologies allow parents to “parent” from a distance, to let technology control what the child sees and what they do not.

Helicopter Parenting

“Helicopter parent is a term for a person who pays extremely close attention to his or her child or children, particularly at educational institutions” (Flickr).

Additionally, the extremity of such techniques may have negative consequences on the familial structure, as many of the strategies described constitute as an invasion of privacy that could damage relationships later on. At one point, Guins mentions new Internet filtering systems that allow parents to secretly monitor and archive a child’s IM conversations, emails, and website history. Some programs will even send parents emails summarizing their child’s online activity. With these systems in place, “going online carries a potential guilty verdict before anything is even accessed because a child’s online activities are constantly under suspicion” (78). Herein lies the problem. At what point does wanting to protect your child from new digital dangers transform into wanting to control every aspect of their world? Which is to say, at what point does the manipulation of technology change from innocent protectiveness to “helicopter parenting”?

Because if, in fact, such practices encourage the latter, families are subject to potential destabilization. After all, personal privacy is essential to the construction of identity. If a child catches their parent reading his or her journal, the level of trust between the two is immediately shattered and the value of privacy is clarified and heightened. I can only imagine how severe that trust-rupture would be if the diary were replaced with the child’s entire online activity.

I’m not necessarily saying that a parent should take an entirely “hands-off” approach to parenting in the digital world, because such a decision could be equally as detrimental to the child’s health. However, with the rise of control societies comes the obfuscation of the boundary between good parenting and meddling, damage control and the breach of privacy.

Featured Image via Flickr

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2 thoughts on “Is the Culture of Control Getting Out of Control?

  1. Pingback: Filtering and Blocking Web Content in Schools | WIIH Fellows: New Media, New Knowledge

  2. Pingback: It Happened to Me: Internet Surveillance and the Family | WIIH Fellows: New Media, New Knowledge

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