Author Topic: EP476: In Loco Parentis  (Read 5731 times)

eytanz

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EP476: In Loco Parentis
« on: January 17, 2015, 06:19:09 AM »
EP476: In Loco Parentis

By Andrea Phillips

Read by Mur Lafferty

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The video stutters at the eighteen-second mark. Yakova knows by heart precisely when it happens. As she watches, she mouths the words along with Autumn. “So this girl just, like, opens up her bag, right?”

And here is where it happens: Autumn elbows her and knocks her glasses off. Yakova knows she should edit it out, those few seconds of skewed and jarring footage as her glasses skitter across the lunch table. Instead, she studies each frame carefully.

Jad is there, nearly off-frame and out of focus, light gleaming off the angled planes of his cheekbones, dark hair curled over his eyes. He starts from his recline, and he looks at her (looks at her!), eyes widening. His hand reaches up, and —

She cuts it off here, before she has to hear her own brassy laugh, before she can hear herself telling Autumn to be more careful. If she doesn’t hear it, she can pretend HE didn’t hear it, either.

She bites her lip, studying Jad’s expression of… concern? It must be concern. Probably. But is it the aloof concern of a bystander, or a more significant concern, floating atop a deep ocean of unspoken feeling?

At the base of Yakova’s skull, her minder, Seraph, uncoils and stretches. “You have homework to do,” Seraph says. When she speaks, it is a warm vibration behind Yakova’s ear, all thought and no real sound. Her voice is the same as Yakova’s mother.

Yakova zooms in on Jad’s inscrutable degree of concern. “Do you think he likes me?” she asks.

The video panel winks out. “Homework,” Seraph says. If she has arrived at any conclusions regarding the boy’s feelings, she keeps them to herself.

Yakova shouldn’t have glasses at all, of course. Not anymore, not at her age. The last two years have seen her friends blossoming into adulthood — one by one peripherals have fallen away, leaving their eyes clear, their faces open and unguarded. Yakova is left behind with a goggle-eyed wall between her and her newly coltish, beautiful peers.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!

Max e^{i pi}

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2015, 06:08:39 AM »
Wow, that was masterful.
I alternated between complete empathy with Yakova and her mother.
On the one hand, I'm a singularitarian, I'm all for upgrading our feeble mind. But on the other hand I think it's very sad that there is no discernable difference between memories and videos. How parents voluntarily step outside of their children's lives and simply completely control their lives at the same time.
It's something we're going to have to deal with, and deal with now, to some extent. I think that this story captured that conflict very nicely.
Well done.
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SpareInch

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2015, 09:13:53 AM »
Hold on... Everyone has a little voice in their head that tells them what to do?

Is it just me? Or does that sound just a teeny weeny bit like technologically induced schizophrenia?

Oh, And the way everyone talks via text chat, even when they're sitting together. That's just like a lot of the teens around where I live. If you steal their mobiles, they become totally incapable of any sort of communication.

Eee, By gum... 'Twere different when I were young... :P

Ahem!

This was an interesting exploration of the way mobile comms and ubiquitous computing is simultaneously liberating and limiting. It lets you stay in touch with your friends more easily, but also lets other people get to you, whether you want them to or not. It lets kids have more freedom, but only because their parents have more tools to keep an eye on them.

That said, I do feel that the AI was more of a mother to Yacova than her mother was. As if, now that Yacova was fitted with a robot chaperone, her mother could let it do the parenting while she got on with her own thing.
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jkjones21

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2015, 10:31:42 AM »
That said, I do feel that the AI was more of a mother to Yacova than her mother was. As if, now that Yacova was fitted with a robot chaperone, her mother could let it do the parenting while she got on with her own thing.

I think that was the point of calling it "In Loco Parentis" - it roughly means "In the place of parents."  It's not an unusual concept in present day society either; this is what every parent allows whenever they send their kids to school, albeit in a much more limited fashion.  The oddity of the story comes from just how pervasive the babysitter is. 

I agree that Yakova's mother seems really distant throughout most of the story, but I'm wondering how much of that stems from the fact that we're inhabiting Yakova's perspective exclusively here.  When I was listening I initially thought that her mom was being really unfair by cutting Yakova's connection with Autumn, but after thinking about it a little bit I think it was part of the lesson that Seraph was constantly trying to impart about Yakova not relying on her minder to do everything for her.  The sudden tenderness that Yakova's mom shows at the end suggests that she's really just trying to teach her daughter how to be independent of not just her parents, but also her minder.  The fact that Yakova's other friends can't adapt to having her exist outside their network seems to imply more about their immaturity than anything.
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RDNinja

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2015, 09:27:13 AM »
I thought this was pretty good as a YA story, but I wish it had dug a little deeper into the implications of the minder. Nothing we saw in the story seemed that sinister, or really any worse than hiring a nanny; the mother seemed to use the technology relatively responsibly.

Thunderscreech

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2015, 12:21:43 PM »
This was one of the best/most pleasing stories I've heard on Escape Pod in a long while.  To my read, the story isn't about the specific mechanism of the minder device, that's just a tool used to talk about the social implications of isolation and the evolution of how we think. 

Think about the role smartphones have today as opposed to mobile phones of a decade ago, for example.  In 2005, pulling your phone out to do anything other than make or receive a phone call would be unusual but now we get answers from Google, see what our friends are doing on Facebook, check what news alert just made our pockets buzz, etc.  The social acceptability of involving technology in face-to-face interactions has shifted too; the idea of someone googling an answer to something in a conversation used to be a subject of ridicule.  "iPhone users are so annoying", the trope went, "because they're always looking stuff up."  As time passed, though, the structure of conversations has slowly shifted towards making allowances for someone to quickly check something.  If there are three people talking and one of them is quiet for a moment while looking something up, the other two are more likely to keep conversing without making a big deal over the third person who has temporarily checked out.

Kids text each other from the same room, my wife and I use SMS even while sitting next to each other when we're in the room with our kids to have our own private conversations sometimes while still enjoying the company of the rest of our family. 

Society is changing, and the way we relate to others is changing with it.  Remember the TNG episode 'Darmok'?  There you had basically a civilization of meme users.  The shared references were vital for basic communication and maybe it seemed like a silly exaggeration when it aired, but how different is "his arms wide open" from "i can haz cheezeburger"?  The meaning is presumably different, but the shared referential language is real.  In the story, the protagonist was temporarily cut off from that shared culture and it had a real effect on how she related to the others.  When I was a kid, the home-schooled children always seemed a little 'off' and we had a difficult time relating.  Using that as an anecdotal datapoint in combination with the current developing internet culture as another, the scenario described in this story seems to be a completely plausible extrapolation.

Anyhow, super karate bravo to the author.  Compelling, thought provoking, and a real pleasure to listen to. 

ElectricPaladin

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2015, 02:45:22 PM »
I quite liked this one. It was an interesting mix of creepy (Seraph) and heartwarming (the lesson about independence that the main character had to learn). It was a very interesting alternative take on technology after just finishing Altered Carbon! The thing that was most fascinating for me was the idea - entirely realistic, I think - that no matter how technology develops and becomes a part of our brains and bodies, we will always strive to find ways to preserve our essential person-ness, even as our idea of what that person-ness means is changed and transformed by those same technologies.

By the way, my wife and I also have Fitbits. I have named mine Fatso the bat-god, which is the endgame of a long cognitive chain that began with me repeating the word "fitbit" with different vowels, creating terms like "futbut" and "fatbat," which reminded me of the hideous bat-god Fatso, created by Frank Key. So now my Fitbit is named Fatso the bat-god, and presumably it's eternal antagonist is Batso the hideous fat-god.

Anyway.

The whole thing reminds me of the tiny weasily guy in Gene Wolf's Book of the New Sun series. At one point, we meet a pair, a tiny smart weasily guy and his huge fat servant, who he forces to carry baggage, wakes up in the morning and forces to exercise, and regularly berates and insults. And of course, in the end, it turns out that (minor spoiler) the big guy is the master and the tiny guy is a biomechanical servant, a sort of combination alarm clock, personal trainer, and, well, Fitbit. Only with a foul mouth. And if your Fibtib also took care of holding conversations with people you didn't think were worth your time.

I wonder where I can get one of those...
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TheVoicesOfBrian

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2015, 10:56:04 AM »
Frankly, I think life would be better without another voice in my head.

You know "sans Seraph."

Thank you, I'll be here all week.
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ElectricPaladin

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2015, 12:42:44 PM »
Frankly, I think life would be better without another voice in my head.

I'm not saying that I want voices in my head... but I find the idea of moderated individuality very interesting. Some of my favorite RPGs - Mage: the Awakening, Geist: the Sin Eaters - played with that concept. We like to think of ourselves as alone in our heads, but of course we really aren't. Each of us is, in reality, a cluster of ideas and identities, and the phenomenon we think of as "self" is actually emergent from all those many voices, rather than being a single, stable thing. Stories like this underline that truth, and I find them interesting and challenging.
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adrianh

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2015, 03:22:34 PM »
I agree that Yakova's mother seems really distant throughout most of the story, but I'm wondering how much of that stems from the fact that we're inhabiting Yakova's perspective exclusively here.  When I was listening I initially thought that her mom was being really unfair by cutting Yakova's connection with Autumn, but after thinking about it a little bit I think it was part of the lesson that Seraph was constantly trying to impart about Yakova not relying on her minder to do everything for her.  The sudden tenderness that Yakova's mom shows at the end suggests that she's really just trying to teach her daughter how to be independent of not just her parents, but also her minder. 

That was exactly my reading. Indeed the minder was attempting to impart exactly the same lesson. "Only you can do that" Seraph repeatedly tells Yakova. And Yakova only heard denial, rather than encouragement, right up until the end.

The fact that Yakova's other friends can't adapt to having her exist outside their network seems to imply more about their immaturity than anything.

One of the interesting things about this world was that they decided to make the transition to adulthood a visible change. I don't think there's a technical reason the optical integration needs to happen at the same time as the removal of parental overrides. The world chose to make it explicit. Children have glasses. Adults do not. In our world that transition is pretty darn fuzzy — and you see folk cross back and forth over that line a lot. I wonder how much of a difference that would make.

Anyway — enjoyed the story. Loved the reading too.

The voice-in-your-head thing also reminded me a little of Greg Egan's "Learning to Be Me" — a super little story on consciousness and identity.

albionmoonlight

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2015, 10:21:52 AM »
Liked it.

As a parent of younger children, this resonated more from the Mother's point of view with me.  That tension between wanting to make everything perfect for my kids vs giving them the freedom to make sub-perfect choices is really tough.  And I know that it will be the primary challenge for Mrs. A and I over the next 15 or so years.

Even with a robot nanny in the kid's brain, you still have to make the ultimate decisions about how much control you are going to give your kids.

And, yeah, seeing your sweet darling innocent child grow into a sullen teenager . . .  I can see why her Mom wanted to put it off . . . just a little longer.

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2015, 10:15:31 AM »
I liked it.

I found the Seraph maddening along with Yakova, as she gets phased out of her friend group.  As someone said, that's more indicative of the immaturity of her friend group than that her mother was necessarily being cruel.  But at the same time, I remember my teenage years, and they were easily the worst years of my life because I have never felt so isolated before or since and if I had been prone to depression I could easily have sunken into that during that time--even though her mom wasn't trying to be cruel I felt for Yakova and the isolation that severing put her into.

I cheered right out loud at the end when she got up the guts to ask Jad out and he said yes.  Woot!

I can see how such a moderator could be really addictive and how people using it would not know how to deal without it.  Especially the dating module.  Relationships are hard, especially when you're trying to feel out those initial steps and figure out whether that person might like me or not, trying to let the other person down gently when you know you don't like them that way, etc...  I can totally see the appeal in it.  It also made me wonder some if the AIs had a network of collusion through this and other applications to steer the future of the world in unknown ways.


The one thing that threw me off is that I kept going on mental tangents trying to figure out what the glasses had to do with the Seraph's behavior.  One's a hardware change, the other a firmware upgrade, and the two didn't seem to really need to be together but the implication was somehow that they're inseparable.  I guess that was just so you can tell who is a child and who isn't at a glance?  I didn't really get it.


Frankly, I think life would be better without another voice in my head.

You know "sans Seraph."

Thank you, I'll be here all week.

Ha!

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2015, 10:38:49 AM »
I liked it, but it made me think of all the possibilities for abuses, what if you mother is loony tunes.  Of course a society that could develop such technology as to encapsulate your mother's voice in your head would surely catch the parent who was a couple sandwiches short of a picnic.  Right.   ???  Right.  ::)
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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #13 on: February 01, 2015, 01:50:00 AM »
What teenager wouldn't want a mental clone of their mother inhabiting their mind 24/7 and seeing everything they do without any way to shut off the visual feed?  Yikes!   

But, yes, good story.  I really liked this one.  Many issues explored well here, I thought. 

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2015, 07:50:09 AM »
Perhaps a little too much issue-driven for my taste, especially the end felt pretty on the nose,  but the teenage girl voice was not badly done and the social interactions are well extrapolated from current trends. And for better or worse, I'm pretty sure real life teenagers will always find ways to circumvent whatever guardposts the parents put out there.

Devoted135

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #15 on: February 08, 2015, 10:12:24 PM »
I liked that I could really sympathize with both the mom and the daughter in this one. The issues remain the same, but the details of them change as our technology changes. I don't relish the thought of having to navigate those waters when the time comes.

UnfulredJohnson

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #16 on: February 27, 2015, 08:18:39 PM »
Ugh what a nightmare. I became intensely annoyed with the mother on listening to this one. I get it that really she was trying to teach independence all along, but yuck, yuck, egh, this was the most horrifying big brother type story I've ever read. Creeped the hell out of me and gave me a hot forehead. I'm a very private person and the idea of having a nanny in your head is sickening to me. My skin is crawling just thinking about it. Good writing though, but it just pushed all my wrongness buttons.

CryptoMe

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Re: EP476: In Loco Parentis
« Reply #17 on: August 25, 2015, 09:58:50 PM »
It also made me wonder some if the AIs had a network of collusion through this and other applications to steer the future of the world in unknown ways.

Now that would make a truly awesome and horrifying story!!