January 26, 2010

British Kidswear Company Uses Education To Tackle Sexting Problem


Last fall Britons were shocked by the findings of a new study that showed British children don't start sexting until 13, almost 2 years later than their US counterparts. Rather than just cry into their tea, independent children's fashion powerhouse Brights & Stripes decided to act.

Using the latest in "augmented reality" technology, they created an early education program that trains children as young as 2yo to dance and shimmy in front of a webcam. If they wear Brights & Stripes' specially designed rainbow pattern t-shirts and let B&S possibly record their actions, the company adds amusing, interactive weather animation to the video. As the kids get a little older, and a little more hooked, I expect the company will just let the clouds "slip" a bit.

And so this is how people who grow up surrounded by CCTV cameras entertain themselves.

Brights & Stripes Magic Tee Shirts [brightsandstripes.com via @anorakmagazine]


This is not streamed or broadcast. The kids simply interact with the camera and clothing in the privacy of their own home.

I'm sure it's not being streamed or broadcast. My point was that it trains kids to perform for a webcam.

But that said, when you click to turn over control of your webcam and microphone to brightsandstripes.com , it also says "you may be recorded." It would be simple enough for B&S to say, "No, actually you won't."

Someone took a bite from the paranoid fruit. It's a system designed to allow children to express themselves creatively and suddenly we're in the middle of a global-corporate-paedophilia scandal.

Rather than help to expose the "1984-esque" nature of modern Britain, you're pandering to the fear mongers.

Great work!

I-- ...

Hah - alarmist, shoddy blogging 101! I can't believe you're comparing kids and their parents playing with a virtual WEATHER game to sexting?! That's insane!

The fact that you find something sinister in this video says a lot more about your own weird mind than anyone else's. How did you even arrive at the idea to compare a weather game to child exploitation?! I mean, trivialising a serious issue much?! "As the kids get a little older, and a little more hooked, I expect the company will just let the clouds "slip" a bit." What the....?! That doesn't even make any sense! And what's this tosh about kids getting "hooked"? Hooked on what? Clothes?! Dude, you need help.

ps. If you want to find the root of all evil in children's clothing, why not look at the fact that the previous post on your blog advertises a babygrow that costs £80 and turns your child into a product of The Factory. Just plain creepy...

pps. Isn't the "you might be recorded" message just the standard Flash warning because you could, in theory, be recorded? I mean, if you were actually concerned about this (and not just being a troll) you could monitor your web traffic and check that the flash file runs client-side only and doesn't transmit any information back to the server... *NARF*

Ermmm, grow up you fool. It's a piece of technology encouraging kids to be creative, not some mindless game where they get to a) aggressively shoot things and b) gain the affections of an anatomically-incorrect woman at the end of it. Fancy a job with the Daily Mail?

Holy smokes, I bet the punch'n cuddle guy's wishing he had some zealous, utterly humor-challenged supporters right now, too.

Just to spell it out for you C-L-E-A-R-L-Y: the post is satirical from start to finish, from the fictional study and the absurd idea that England's "sexting problem" is that kids start sexting too late to the notion of a child's digital wardrobe malfunction. Just as I get the gist, but not the deeply sophisticated nuances of your Daily Mail crack--because I live in the US, and don't care very much about British tabloids--I should have expected that distinction might be muted for folks in the UK who haven't been exposed to the ridiculous, hyperventilating "news" reports about sexting that seemed to wash over the American media the last few months. Never mind the flame-fanning press releases I get from so-called parenting "experts" who want to "share some valuable tips" with DT readers--and plug their books or whatever.

So satire. BUT. The point about the implications of technology use by kids is real, if obviously [or not so obviously, it turns out] exaggerated for humorous [or not] effect. I think it's futile to try--or even want--to raise a kid in a tech-free bubble, or according to the tech world and norms of our own childhoods. Things change. 2yos pretend to talk on cell phones and don't recognize a wall-mounted phone. They don't understand what a TV schedule or channel is, because they just watch whatever whenever.

In this context--their context--interacting with/through a webcam is completely normal. But just because Dora the Explorer encourages kids to talk to the TV doesn't mean it's an automatic good that we must embrace an accept uncritically. These technologies affect the way kids think and act and see the world. A kid who's sick of his sister's crying will reflexively try to silence her with a mute button. A parent's responsibility is to be aware of the influences on his kid, and be responsible for them, and ultimately, to train his kid to be able to identify and manage such interactions with the outside world by herself.

As someone who was alive before the net, webcams, and reality TV, I have watched the evolution from mass media and spectacle to mass exhibitionism, and I view it with the skepticism that comes from working in the internet since 1994. This cute, fun, interactive weather dance t-shirt is completely charming and adorable and harmless and a great way for kids to spend some funtime together with their parents. Every augmented reality application is not a perversion that we must Protect Our Children from, any more than balloons are evil because--hello! Inflatable sex dolls!

But rest assured that if someone makes a toddler toy that looks like graffiti from a bathroom stall, I will point that out. And the same goes for digital overlays of clouds that look like pasties.

As for the Flash recording warning, that is absolutely a side issue. I'm sure B&S is a lovely company--it sounds like it--run by absolutely lovely people. And I know that I found them via a magazine--Anorak--I have long admired. So no, I *don't* have any *actual* concern about my webcam being hijacked or my kid's video being turned into a commercial or being "shared" across facebook or whatever.

But I still had those questions cross my mind when I started loading the video and was warned that my camera feed might be recorded. And yes, I *could* monitor my upstream traffic. Or if I was really concerned I *might* email the company, but what I'd probably do is just move on without a word. If it's part of the user experience, then it's B&S's design responsibility--and it's in their interest--to, if not address it, at least be aware of it.

And now that I'm presented with the possibility that my kid's video could be recorded, I want to know a) if it is or not, and b) who is recording it, and c) what for. Because as a parent, those things are my responsibility.

And if that's being oversensitive and reactionary, and shouldn't I just trust the cutesy ad agency--ooh, look, catch the raindrops!--then I guess I should ask you for directions to the Daily Mail.

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