25 April 2009

The War on Teens (and My Turn on the Front Line)

Remember a few weeks ago—well, most weeks of class, really—we talked about patrons who look at teens and say, you shouldn’t be in here, you’re just hanging out/playing video games/Facebooking? Well, friends, Tuesday I became That Guy.

Everything went down around 2:50, right around the end of the first half of class, when I started losing the audio feed. Actually, it started weeks ago with the new Firefox update, which changed something essential to getting chat and audio at the same time. It either hates Real Player, or hates our class. But I thought I’d got it all worked out and everything was fine for the first 45 minutes of class. Then everything fell apart. Unable to figure out what was wrong, and suddenly lost in class, I quickly unplugged my laptop, grabbed up my coat and backpack, laptop, power cord, coffee mug, earphones—everything I’d hauled into work that morning—and scooted over to the public computers. Amid the fresh-out-of-school middles schoolers, I plugged in the earphones, pulled up the moodle, connected to the live chat, clicked on the audio and…nothing. Nobody was chatting. No Tilley Talk. Eventually I was prodded into Room D, where I had no idea what the devil was going on, or why I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t figure out why I was supposed to be in Room D. Eventually everyone started chatting again, but I still had no audio. But the teen next to me did. She had audio, and I could hear it through her headphones, and yet I couldn’t hear my class, and I was melting down and nearly to tears with frustration and impotence, and the girl started laughing softly to herself at something on her screen and I immediately wanted to throttle her. Instantly, I thought That’s not fair, you’re not even DOING anything.

And I was immediately appalled with myself, and I took a few deep breaths. And I got my comeuppance when I figured got the audio working and it blared painfully through the earphones. No wonder I could hear her audio; the system volume controls are locked behind administrator-only access. I could adjust the audio on the media player, but anything system related—from the Windows start up jingle to the “boing boing” sound when I clicked something wrong rang out at maximum volume, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I suddenly see the brilliance of Work Like a Patron Day.

Anyway. I can see how those moments of frustration and irritability pop up now and again; I got there pretty easily, and I not only believe in teens’ equality of access, but I’ve actually had reason and occasion to really think about that notion. People who haven’t had to think it through—well, I can see how they get to the “let’s just keep the kids out” place, sort of. But even I’m sort of shocked by the extent of Britons’ creativity and dedication to keeping teens out of sight. I’m sure you’ve all heard by now about the mosquito, a high-pitched noise generally inaudible to those over 25 but audible—and annoying—to less hearing-damaged youth. I first heard about shopkeepers using the devise to keep adolescents from congregating in front of stores. Now there’s a story about a town that is re-doing a set of public steps to keep teens from sitting on them. The modifications would make them completely non-ADA-compliant in the U.S., but who cares if stairs are unusable as, you know, stairs?

And, lastly, my personal “favorite”: Pink lights to highlight acne, making teens feel insecure and unattractive, to keep them from congregating. Lovely! I’m well past my teen years, but I’m still not enthusiastic about hanging out in lighting designed to make everyone look worse. On the other hand, I think we can all agree that this casts a more unflattering light on the council than on the kids.

(For all their efforts, though, I think we can count on kids to get the last word on these issues. Take the Mosquito: after the high-pitch device debuted, teens recorded the frequency and made an adult-proof ringtone out of it, enabling them to text in class without raising the notice of their (over-25) teachers. Oh, you kids. Shine on, you crazy diamonds!

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