Lounging in front of the television last week, I was treated to Fox's scare-mongering.
"Lost control of what your kids watch on TV?" came a menacing voice from the box.
It turned out to be an ad for the V-Chip, a standard widget in all new televisions, dreamed up by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a way for parents to filter what their kids watch without actually being there.
Considering I was watching Nanny 911, a show dedicated to reaffirming good old-fashioned discipline in the moral quagmire of the 21st-century family, it was a fairly ironic product placement.
As our lives get swamped with things bleeping and blinking, there's a trend toward treating gadgets as helpful caregivers benevolently overlooking our families. The V-Chip, and its Internet counterpart, the aptly named NetNanny, are setting a precedent for the use of technology as supervision by proxy.
Last year, Legoland Billund (in Denmark) triumphantly announced that parents could visit the theme park without fear of losing their little tykes amidst the primary colours and geometric towers. They can now outfit their kids with bracelets containing a wireless fidelity (wi-fi) tag that tracks their movements.
Spider-Man's dastardly foe, Kingpin, came up with the idea first. In the 1977 newspaper strip, he gave the web-slinger an electronic bracelet so he could track him. In 1985, New Mexico judge Jack Love admitted he was inspired by the comic to invent the ankle bracelet currently used by police to track parolees.
This is the item many want to see Karla Homolka wearing when she leaves jail this summer.
Martha Stewart is currently sporting such a tracking device in her opulent home in upstate New York, despite reality TV producer Mark Burnett's complaints that the surveillance was hindering her business prospects. The panopticon of the U.S. Probation Office will continue to monitor Stewart's movements until the end of her sentence in August.
In The Death And Life Of American Cities, Jane Jacobs points out that those living in healthy communities tend to look out for their neighbours and supervise one another's families naturally. Relegating this function to gadgets tends to increase our distrust and alienation rather than assuage our anxieties.
Schools in Tokyo have recently teamed up with Fujitsu to test a system for keeping track of students during school hours. Students will soon be required to wear tags that send regular messages to their parents' cellphones with information on their location.
The Okayama school board has gone even further, partnering with uniform manufacturers Ogo-Sangyo Co. to sew GPS tracking chips into students' blazers. Parents can log onto a home computer and watch their very own blinking red dot scamper around the schoolyard.
Big Brother tracking devices have also entered the world of amorous relationships. European designer Theo Humphries has manufactured "smart underwear" that can only be taken off in pre-approved locations. Failure to comply causes a message to be sent to the anxious spouse. Other versions actually time how long a pair of underwear has been off, alerting the spouse to lengthy periods of nakedness.
The V-Chip claims it's "helping make TV safe for American families." Safer for Mom or Dad simply to walk over and turn off Fox.