Big Mother

Sometimes, I’m too cute for my cell phone. It’s a teensy flip-style phone. As is common in these days of hands free capabilities, it has voice-activated dialing, so it’s a natural for a geek and former Trekker like me to access my home number by flicking open my communicator intoning in my best James T Kirk voice, “Beam me up, Scotty!”

Cell phones carry within them, of course, tons of computing power, and as browsing- and e-mail-capable PDAs and cell phones have merged into the so-called Smartphone, we can now safely say that the computer has become, predominantly, a communication device. Talk, or send/receive data, pretty much no matter where you are.

Hand the kid a cell phone when they’re 16, their electronic leash, and you’ll never have trouble reaching him. Well, you’ll have no trouble reaching him provided he has his phone on, and bothers to answer it. It’s oddly coincidental, isn’t it, that the phone’s battery went dead just before you called to get him home! Never mind those, or the GPS transmitters embedded in them, though. Old technology. Been there. Done that. Ho-hum. I’ve got something better in mind.

RFID. Radio Frequency Identification. That is found in the little bitty chips they put into those cards you flash at the gas pumps to speed your way through buying gasoline, or that enable you to whiz past the Luddites in the tollways. They even have chips you implant in your dog or cat, and you can use them to track their whereabouts. They are the gizmos that automate your pay-at-the-pump capabilities, and let you unlock your car as you walk toward it, key-fob in pocket.

Hmmmm. Track your pet’s whereabouts? How about kids? While that’s a start, it is not nearly good enough. With kids, you not only need to know where they are, but you need a way to call them back home. I’m talking about the new millennium version of your Mom, the neighborhood siren, standing on the front stoop and you, many blocks away, feeling the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end when she let loose her “GET HOME THIS INSTANT YOUNG LADY!” yodel.

I need these chips. I need them to have little speakers. I need to be able to implant them into my children, and run the little speakers up to their little ears. I think you know where I’m going with this.

Here are some scenarios I envision:

Scenario 1: You’re at work. You left Your Little Angel in the care of her sitter. You suspect said sitter of spending too much time watching “Judge Judy” instead of paying strict attention to whether Your Little Angel is getting into the cookie jar, in spite of your strict orders that she not be given any cookies until after her nap. So, pop open a browser window that contains a map of your home, and track Your Little Angel’s progress about the house. I’m envisioning using a little dotted line, you know what I’m saying? Bil Keane, of course, could collect royalties. You fire the sitter when you discover Your Little Angel’s little dotted line headed for Big Red X on your house map and it’s before nap time.

Scenario 2: Your boy, Sluggo, claims he’ll be going over to play ball at the park, but you suspect he’s really going over to that little hussy Nancy’s house, and, sure enough, your tracking ability proves it. A quick phone call to Nancy’s parents puts an end to that illicit romance, and how. Nine is simply too young for that sort of thing.

Scenario 3 (this is where the speakers come in handy): Your daughter Cathy is over at her friend’s house, where they’re working on their scrapbooking project. Irma’s parents are on the phone, and Cathy’s cell phone is coincidentally turned off. It’s time for Cathy to get home. You activate the speakers and inform her to GET HOME THIS INSTANT YOUNG LADY and have the satisfaction of seeing her round little face in your kitchen pronto.
The possibilities are endless! Let’s say your son is about to get his driver’s license. Can you see it, now?

“Ahem! Young man. You appear to be exceeding the speed limit. Slow it down or you’re grounded!”

Or my potential favorite:

“As long as you’re passing the Baskin Robbins on your way home from work, would you please pick something up for your dear old mother?”

I’m going to get in touch with those RFID manufacturers right away. Computers and communication. A match made for Mommy Heaven.

This article originally appeared in the “Parental Computing column for “Computer Bits” magazine in December, 2003