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Lower Merion Fallout

'Where are you right now?'


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Josie Maran says the essence of method acting is in the warmup exercises which are not totally unrelated to what's done in other disciplines such as jazz dance and karate. You sit upright with your feet firmly planted on the floor, your knees somewhat apart and your hands on your knees, and then you ask yourself:

'Where am I right now?'

Try it. It works. It clears the mind which otherwise is probably 'lost in thought'.

Now try a variant on that exercise instead. Start the same way but now ask yourself:

'I'm in a home in Lower Merion. There's a school MacBook here. What does it feel like?'

Live into that scenario. Try to imagine what it feels like, how you would act. In the still controversial story in Lower Merion there seem to be a few uncontested facts, one of which is that the iSight cameras in the MacBooks used to emit a green flash when pictures were being taken, several people reported seeing the flashes, and they were told it was but a 'hardware glitch' and no more.

Now they all know differently. Now they know the truth.

The MacBook iSight camera was not being activated solely on the suspicion of theft. There is at any rate no mention of this in any of the stories coming out of Lower Merion. Students and parents were perplexed at the green flashes and contacted the school. School representatives told them there was no spying going on and no pictures were being taken.

There is no mention of people at the school scolding the students and their parents for taking home a MacBook without informing the school and paying the $55 'insurance fee'. Nor has anyone from the school suggested such a thing.

Be that as it may: try to imagine the controversy fades away, everything goes back to normal, and the school techies start using the iSight camera again. What does it feel like?

Anybody can be in the house - friends of the students, friends of the parents - and that MacBook can be anywhere. It can be hooked up to a wireless network and be open on the kitchen table. It can be in someone's lap in the sitting room. It can be in a bedroom. It can be in the head. Anywhere.

And everyone in that family and everyone visiting that family has to be aware that the iSight can flash green at any time.

What are you wearing? Did you shave today? Is your hair still in curlers? Are you getting ready to go out, putting on makeup or changing your knickers? What parts of your home are being exposed by the mere fact the MacBook is open?

One can also get raunchy and delve into US child pornography laws here. And that would be fun. How many pictures of naked minors are being stored somewhere on the school servers? The students and their parents were told there was nothing going on and the green flash was a mere hardware glitch. But it wasn't. What kind of picture archive are they holding onto at that school?

Picture yourself there. Try to imagine what it feels like to have to be continually on the lookout for an open MacBook. For everything you do, in every moment of every day: first check for an open MacBook nearby.

A brave new world. You'll establish new survival habits. The MacBook can only be used in unlit rooms. Care must be taken to only open it when no one else is around. When everyone understands they must not enter the room when someone is working with the MacBook.

There's been a bit of a backlash in the story of late with new waves of comments coming down hard on the victims and the privacy advocates. Michael Perbix and Carol Cafiero have been put on paid leave. They have salaries of $86,379 and $105,569 respectively. Which is pretty good considering the company they're in. They have no reduction in pay. They keep on getting paid. All that's happened is the school tried to take them out of media focus for a while.

Representatives for the two claim they didn't keep their use of the spying software a secret. Yet they regularly told parents and students that there was no spying going on. And district officials admitted they'd not told the parents what was going on.

But try to imagine what it would be like if you did know the truth, if this spying was going on with your full knowledge. Try to imagine how you would live your life (or if you even could).

But above and beyond the Big Brother invasion of privacy there's an even bigger overriding issue: what were they thinking in Lower Merion when they instituted this programme? What kind of school programme financially discourages students from taking their laptops home? Don't they have homework to do?

No school of today can risk cultivating another 'generation lame'. Those laptops are knockabout boxes. They're meant to be tossed into rucksacks and to follow their owners everywhere. Yet Lower Merion imposed a $55 'insurance fee' on those who wanted to use their computers at home as well. What kind of idea is that?

What they should have done was go over their budget one more time and made sure they could afford to insure all computers - some will be stolen or lost even if they're not taken home - and then calculated what if any contribution individual households would have to make. And they should have made it patently clear that they expected all students to have their MacBooks with them at all times - in school and at home both.

The kids are a lot smarter than the teachers - particularly when it comes to IT. They're going to want to play around in the evenings. That's how you learn things. That's why the teachers don't learn things.

Yet here we have a school implying that the all-important learning process stops at the end of the school day. And if you want to do any more work or research then you either pony up the $55, use a (Windows) PC at home, or muck about with your games console or cellphone. What kind of education is that?

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