Yesterday, Pam and I played host to the DeCesare/Goodman/Bergman clan. This meant five kids in the house.
We have a little room, a kind of shed, attached to the garage. The kids adopted this as their own. We were charmed when they appeared to turn the shed into a new country, complete with its own three color flag. "As long as they don’t start singing and marching," the adults joked, and that’s the last we thought of it.
Then the four year old wandered back to the house carrying a slip that read, "Beutyful 2414."
Eventually, it dawned on us that this was her password and security code. Here is the entire manifest. (I give it to you in the strictest confidence.)
Each of the kids has a password and security code. I don’t know how many terrorists there are in my part of Connecticut but clearly the little shed is now secure. Relatively speaking. We could use a metal detector and a rent-a-cop but then the kids will have to start raising taxes, and no one around here wants that, believe me.
Now, it may be that this is the 21st century version of the those hand scrawled signs that have always appeared on tree houses and forts, the ones that read "keep out." (We adults couldn’t help noticing that no one gave us passwords and security codes.) Maybe the kids were just building a boundary the way kids have always liked to do.
But surely these kids are the children of 9/11. I don’t think their homes, education or worship bristle with security, but it’s inevitable they feel boundaries to be imperiled, scrutinized, and protected. Notice that the kids yesterday had passwords AND security codes. Nothing casual about this system. Besides, the passwords are vaguely descriptive (to make them easier to remember), but not so easy that you could just guess what someone’s code would be. This security system is in earnest. It makes a little chill run down your back.
If the pundits are right, technological enablement is going to make these kids as porous as anything. The cell phone is just the beginning. Eventually, all the world is going to be able to find them anywhere. From an anthropological point of view, it’s also clear that these kids are going to be loose bounded, not just the world streaming in but the kid streaming out. Any way you look at it, porousness is the new order of the day.
Perhaps it’ s their sense of this, as much as the heritage of 9/11, that makes them prize the idea of border control. Frost said, good fences make good neighbors. These kids may feel they make good kids.
I think this is directly related to their familiarity with computer passwords.
Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker a few years back, wrote about his 3-year-old daughter’s imaginary friend, Charles Ravioli, who was always too busy to actually meet her, and with whom she had to communicate with via (imaginary) voice mail, or via his (imaginary) assistant.
(“Bumping into Mr. Ravioli”, issue of 2002-09-30: tried to find it online, but no luck!)
If you think their education doesn’t “bristle with security” then you haven’t been inside a school very recently. The major remaining distinction between school and prison is that in the former, the inhabitants are allowed to leave at night.
I agree with dilys, though, that this is more likely to be a function of familiarity with the virtual border of a computer login prompt than anything relating to 9/11 or similar events.
I view this as part of the human impulse to be exclusive (Maslow’s stage of self-actualisation) – of creating a boundary and saying everything within that boundary is special (the boundary could be anything – a religion, a political party, a social class, a social anti-class etc). Boundaries define the people who are “in” just as much as they define the people who are “out”.
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I disagree with the comments that these four- (and other-) year-olds are merely mimicking/mirroring a familiarity with computer passwords. First off, at least one of them was four. Do four-year-olds these days have their own usernames and passwords or do parents log them on? (I ask in earnest; I do not know and am not lucky enough to be close to any four-year-olds.) I mean, I never pretended I had a social security number when I was 4. (I don’t think — better ask my mom.)
Second, the kids’ level of security is HIGHER than we routinely face when using passwords, so there is at the very least exaggeration present even if their base behavior is “merely” mimickry. You either have to use a username and password (to get your gmail) or you have to use your PIN (to get your money out of the wall). We almost never have to have a special word and a special number IN ADDITION to already being ourselves (as most usernames are based on names/nicknames).
Finally, and most convincing to me, they made a flag. When I was a kid, we had clubs and teams and pretend identities — but we never had a sovereign nation whose borders we enforced. What colors were on the flag, Grant?
The comments so far are true, and of course there’s some mimickry going on, but Grant’s right — there’s more going on here.
Dilys and Matt, I asked Pam and she thinks that not even the oldest one (who is 8) uses a password to access a computer. Her mum may clarify. Thanks, Grant
Peter, I happen to know Charles Ravioli and he doesn’t have any time for me either. I am this close to saying, Charlie, I don’t care if you are imaginery, you’ve got to get in the loop. Thanks, Grant
John, Good spot. The flag is vertical bands of yellow, red and blue. I agree with you, I really do think they were thinking in terms of soverignty. Thanks, Grant
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Did anyone happen to see the classic episode of “Malcom In the Middle” where the dad and son build a society out of action figures and building blocks … and then the little boy turns into a despot?
Sounds like the shed is going in this direction.