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October 30, 2014
Monday, August 11, 2014

Modern parents and CIA tactics

By Pablo Toledo
For the Herald

The spying app

Dear Prudence,
My teen-age son has a smartphone and I have an app that allows us to track where he is. The other night he said he was going to a movie with friends at a local mall (1). As my wife and I were going to bed, she wondered if he was on his way home. I discovered he was on the opposite end of town. It wasn’t anywhere dangerous, but he had to take the freeway * to get there, outside our comfort zone for his driving. He did get home safely. When my wife and I were teens there were no cellphones and we did crazy stupid dangerous things our parents never knew about. Our son is a very good kid who gets excellent grades. After we learned that he had lied to us we debated what to do and decided to call him out. He was remorseful (2), but he was also angry that we were spying on him. We told him that if he turns the app off he’ll lose the phone. He wanted to know why he can't have the same freedom we did when we were young. What do you think? If the technology is there, is it good to track where your kids are?
- I’ve Got an App

Dear App,
The other day I was talking to my teenager about what it was like for me to be a teenager in the 1970s; I might as well have been talking about the 1870s. She found it hard to fathom (3) that when my friends and I went out the door our parents had no idea where we were. Now parents are their own private NSA (4), able to track their kids’ movements in real-time. Sure, I find it infinitely reassuring that I can reach my daughter on her cellphone, but it’s not just my technophobia that keeps me from downloading that app you have. She and her friends keep vampire hours (5), but I don’t monitor where she is because I need to practice letting her go, and she needs to learn to make her way in the world. I’m not defending your son's lying. But you acknowledge your own mildly reprobate (6) youth, so you can imagine the thrill for him of being on the forbidden side of town, of successfully navigating the highway at night. So sit down with him and draw up some rules. Say that you're keeping the app on for now, and if you find he's lied to you, there will be consequences. But you know that he’s a senior * and things are changing, so if he is straight with you, by October you will turn off the tracking.
- Prudie

Adapted from a story by Emily Yoffe, Slate.

(1) Mall
A (shopping) mall is the US denomination for a shopping centre – rarely used in the UK. If you are in London, in fact, The Mall is quite another thing: it is the road that goes from Buchingham Palace to Trafalgar Square (London also has Pall Mall, a street very close to The Mall – but the National Mall in Washington DC is not a road, but a park!).

* Freeway vs. highway
These terms are sometimes considered synonyms, but there are in fact technical differences. Both are wide roads designed for travelling long distances at high speeds, usually between cities. Freeways are separated from all other roads and have no intersections or traffic lights. Highways can be at street level, have traffic lights and intersections with other roads.

(2) Remorse
You feel remorse when you are very sorry for something you have done.

(3) Fathom
An oldie but goldie – so much so that it is now used mostly in poetic or ironic contexts. To fathom means to understand or find an explanation for something. Funnily enough, in the nautical world a fathom is a unit used to measure depth (equal to 1.8 metres).

(4) NSA
In the US, NSA is the acronym for the National Security Agency, an intelligence agency that monitors and analyses data from electronic means of communication (anything from telephones to email or any TV/radio) from all over the world.

(5) Vampire hours
No need to explain what a vampire is – it is clear why we say that someone keeps vampire hours when they are awake all night and sleep all day.

(6) Reprobate
A reprobate is a person who acts in a way that society considers immoral. This was a very serious word until the mid-20th century, but is nowadays seen only in humorous or extremely formal/conservative contexts.

* Separated by a common language
So the UK has motorways, not freeways, and in the US they call \a student in their 3rd year of high school a junior (the full sequence for US high school/college years goes freshman, sophomore, junior, senior). So, they sound different when they speak. But how big is this “British English vs. American English” thing really?

Well, all languages have variations (based on place but also age, social class, education, context and many more), and English is no exception – but with over 400 million native speakers from Africa to Australia, India and the Caribbean two variants are obviously not all there is!

The only useful and realistic approach these days is to speak of “world Englishes”. What? Why? How? Answers to these questions and more in David Graddol's fascinating 1997 book The Future of English? and its 2008 followup English Next (both are free and available online through the British Council website).

@destierrado

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