Senseless in Seattle

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Seattle, WA—  At academic conferences, you can get a pretty good idea of trends in higher education not only from the presentations of tenured professors but also from the offerings of Ph.D. candidates.

The latter are presenting their doctoral theses and showing the academic research they want to pursue. As such, they are not only telling their mentors what they want to hear but showing what course catalogues may look like in the not-too-distant future.

These previews might not always be reassuring. For instance, at the Modern Language Association (MLA) annual meeting last week in Seattle, Allison Schifani, a doctoral candidate from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), offered her observations on technological trends.

Notwithstanding that this is a rather odd topic to present to a gathering of English professors—in fact, the largest one of its kind on the planet—the gist of her presentation could alarm consumers, not to mention citizens, who see technology as a means to a happier, healthier life, rather than as a tool for more state control.

In an approach eerily reminiscent of George Orwell’s “four legs good, two legs bad,” Schifani disses technology designed to aid business and law enforcement officials but lauds it when used for environmental regulation.

Specifically, she spoke ominously of two technologies—RFID and ExacuTrack—designed to respectively, track inventory and parolees.

“The ExacuTrack system includes a well-engineered combination of elements – a reliable GPS tracking device, precise mapping software and the Internet – to accurately log an offender’s movement each day,” the manufacturer, BI, claims. “They can track whether parolees are using drugs or alcohol,” Schifani indignantly proclaimed. Arguably, inquiring minds might want to know this information.

As for RFID, “MobileFrame offers RFID Solutions to meet the needs of any organization, from supply chain services to retail to manufacturing,” the website for the product proclaims. “Our RFID solutions increase productivity, reduce inventory shrinkage, improve supply chain efficiencies, prevent costly overstocking, reduce out-of-stocks, and provide access to accurate real-time inventory data.”

“This empowers our customers to make better business decisions based on cross-functional collaboration with real-time supply chain information visibility.” Schifani would like to seek closer collaboration with the animal kingdom.

She’s fond of the Pigeonblog in which feathered creatures with back packs monitor air pollution. Apparently, it never occurred to Schifani that the furry, feathered little guys might also be contributing to it.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail