The student weekly of St. Olaf College
Manitou Messenger: Hi Mom, cut the cord!

Hi Mom, cut the cord!

By Everett Jones
Contributing Writer
Friday, October 12, 2007

My friends and I were walking back from the cafeteria when my phone rang. I promptly answered it.

"Are you coming back from dinner?" my mom asked. "We just saw you!"

It would be easy to miss St. Olaf's "Hi, Mom!" webcam, which, since its installation this summer, crouches unobtrusively to the left of the Pause.

I had certainly paid little attention to it (aside from its description on St. Olaf's homepage alongside a photo of a beaming President Anderson waving to his mother).

But now my home on the East Coast seems much closer than usual, and I'm not sure if I like it.

I no longer feel as strict of a division between my life here at St. Olaf and my life back at home.

My younger siblings are just as taken as my parents are with the webcam, apparently thrilled to see the spectacle of real college students (on a real college campus) engaged in all sorts of thrilling collegiate activity.

While few families are as eccentric as mine, I suspect my experience is not unique.

If, like President Anderson's mother, your family still feels the need to keep tabs on you, you may have had to come to grips with your feelings about the webcam.

Is it a cute, friendly gesture made by the administration or an ominous step toward a kind of John Ashcroft-style of parenting?

The webcam has even received attention from the media. An online MSNBC article entitled "Are You a Helicopter Parent?" notes that the webcam "allows parents, literally, to keep an eye on their kids."

This is notably less upbeat than the statement on St. Olaf's website: "[The] web-cam helps parents feel connected with their kids without students feeling like their parents are monitoring every aspect of their college life."

This strikes me as a mixed signal. Since an important aspect of going to college is experiencing being away from home, St. Olaf reaffirms that our parents are not spying on us that much. They're only spying just a little, so no worries.

To be honest, I did adjust pretty quickly to this new addition to campus. I'm happy to humor my family's idiosyncrasies; after all, I've had a good deal of experience doing so before arriving at St. Olaf.

The knowledge that I may be under observation is disorienting but not particularly disturbing. After all, the webcam only records a string of nondescript images of the mundane (hardly anything too revealing). For the most part, I pay the webcam little attention.

One of my friends, however, was rather bothered when I received the phone call from my mom. She didn't like the idea, I suppose, that somebody else's family was spying on her.

Ultimately, I'm probably making something out of nothing.

After all, it's not as if St. Olaf has installed similar equipment in our dorms or plans to (yet). And it could be worse; the MSNBC "Helicopter Parenting" article reports that other schools have done just that.

On the other hand, if your family hasn't mentioned anything about the webcam, it could be a good sign that they are not obsessed with the most minute details of your day.

Or rather, it could mean they'd prefer that you don't know.

But don't let me make you paranoid.

Just remember, the next time you're in Buntrock, there's probably nobody watching -- as far as you know.

The Manitou Messenger is a student publication of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. It is published weekly during the academic year except during vacations, exam periods and interim. The cost for one year's subscription is $45.00. Postage is paid in Northfield, Minnesota. Manitou Messenger
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