In early July I flew from Minnesota with my 14-year-old daughter to a STEM-oriented camp held on a California college campus. I was along simply to make sure she got to the right place and to hand her off to the bright and capable engineering students running things.
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I was also there in case she had some jitters or homesickness. That proved to be no problem. “Bye, Dad!” she said impatiently as I turned to leave her dorm room. There was more than a little “hit the road” in her tone. A week later I repeated the journey to bring her home. She had a great time.
While she was away, however, she agreed to carry a locator device called a “Tile,” made by a Silicon Valley start-up of the same name. About the size of a Scrabble tile, a Tile connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone running a Tile application.
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If the smartphone’s location services are turned on, the Tile can report its most recent location, within a hundred feet or so, back to its owner, who has the app on their phone. The entire universe of Tile apps running on smart phones serves as a giant, passive network, ready to locate a Tile if asked. A Tile costs about $25; less if you buy a handful at once. The app is free.
Thus, a Tile serves much the same purpose as Apple’s Find My iPhone feature. But of course, my daughter isn’t an iPhone. She’s a person. Specifically, she’s a teenager starting the process of breaking away from her parents. So getting her to carry a Tile was an interesting collision of values versus technology.
Keep in mind: this isn’t our daughter’s first time away. She’s been a regular at sleep-away Girl Scout camp for at least five years. And last summer she attended a similar college-based camp in Massachusetts. So going solo wasn’t new for her or us.
What was new to us were the Tiles we’ve recently been putting on small, high-value things like purses and the boxes in which our kids stored their orthodontic retainers.
So when it came time to plan this year’s trip out West, I raised with my wife the idea of stashing a Tile in our daughter’s backpack. It turned out she agreed.
Then we raised the issue with Lady Gripes-a-Lot. And…after some reasoning, she agreed to being ‘Tiled.’ We made it clear that it wasn’t about the day-to-day; it was about the unexpected event.
We weren’t planning to track her whereabouts unless we heard from the college that she wasn’t where she was supposed to be.
A brief word here about kidnapping in America. Owing to some research I once did on the topic, I know that it’s rare. And kidnapping-by-stranger represents only about 1/4th of all kidnappings and usually occurs very close to home. Only 1 out of 10,000 children kidnapped is not found alive – though of course other, terrible things can happen.
Just before I left my daughter in California, I re-visited the Tile issue with her to make sure she was still on-board with it. After all: if she tossed it in the trash or clipped it to a stray dog, it would, ah, defeat the purpose! To make sure she understood, I used the statistical concept of expected value: the odds of something happening multiplied by the value of the outcome.
In this case the odds of foul play were very low. But because she was…priceless…the expected value was priceless too. And boy would her mother and I feel really dumb if there had been an easy way to thwart a kidnapping – however unlikely – and we hadn’t utilized it. My daughter would feel really dumb too, riding along in the dark trunk of a car on her way to – well, let’s not contemplate it.
Instead, let’s contemplate how technology changes our behavior. And whether it also changes our values. Consider the controversial issue of when life begins. Sonograms allow us to see the shape and activity of a fetus.
Neonatal intensive care facilities enable prematurely born children to more likely survive and thrive after ever-shorter gestation periods. No matter where you stand on the issue, it seems pretty likely that this “progress” has changed our perception of life and perhaps re-defined it.
Now, technology like smartphones and Tiles and the comprehensive telecommunications networks that enable them are in the midst of re-defining the concepts of “lost” and “found.”
Of course, my daughter might say her parents have re-defined privacy. And she’d be right. Smart kid!
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