The Null Device
In today's paranoid age, controlling parents have ever-increasing options for monitoring everything their children do:
The SnoopStick looks like a memory stick. You plug it into your teenager's computer when they are not around, and it installs stealth software on to the machine. Then you plug it into your own computer and can sit back at your leisure and observe, in real time, exactly what your child is doing online - what websites they are visiting, the full conversations they are having on the instant messenger (IM) service, and who they are sending emails to. It is as if you are sitting and invisibly spying over their shoulder.
Significantly, the £37.50 device comes with the warning that, if you use it to monitor an employee's computer without notifying them, you may well be in breach of employment laws. But install it secretively on the computer of your teenager, who has absolutely no rights at all, and no one can touch you. The moral argument doesn't come into it.
The following devices, please note, are not just being marketed to private detectives to catch errant spouses; they are being targeted at parents of teenagers. You can get clothes with tracking devices fitted into them. You can fit such devices covertly into mobile phones. For $149 you can purchase a mobile spy data extractor, which reads deleted text messages from a SIM card. For $79 you can buy a semen detection kit, to test your teenage daughter's clothing. And for $99, if you really want to ape the mad ex-Marine father in American Beauty, you can buy a drug identification kit which can detect up to 12 different illegal drugs.
The SnoopStick symbolises the modern obsession with control. The American psychologist Robert Epstein, who wrote the controversial book The Case Against Adolescence, estimates that young Americans are now ten times more restricted than adults, and twice as restricted as convicted criminals. He says teenagers are infantilised and deprived of human rights. As well as the obvious legal bar to prevent them smoking, drinking, marrying, voting and gambling, teenagers have no privacy rights, no property rights, no right to sign contracts or make decisions regarding their own medical or psychiatric treatment.
Charlie Brooker gets stuck into Brain Gym, a set of alleged brain-enhancing exercises with scant connection to any verifiable reality, which has nonetheless managed to get into the British school system (presumably because the line of bullshit it shills sounds like "fun"):
Brain Gym, y'see, is an "educational kinesiology" programme designed to improve kiddywink performance. It's essentially a series of simple exercises lumbered with names that make you want to steer a barbed wire bus into its creator's face. One manoeuvre, in which you massage the muscles round the jaw, is called the "energy yawn". Another involves activating your "brain buttons" by forming a "C" shape with one hand and pressing it either side of the collarbone while simultaneously touching your stomach with the other hand.
If we mistrust the real world so much that we're prepared to fill the next generation's heads with a load of gibbering crap about "brain buttons", why stop there? Why not spice up maths by telling kids the number five was born in Greece and invented biscuits? Replace history lessons with screenings of the Star Wars trilogy? Teach them how to whistle in French? Let's just issue the kids with blinkers.
Because we, the adults, don't just gleefully pull the wool over our own eyes - we knit permanent blindfolds. We've decided we hate facts. Hate, hate, hate them. Everywhere you look, we're down on our knees, gleefully lapping up neckful after neckful of steaming, cloddish bullshit in all its forms. From crackpot conspiracy theories to fairytale nutritional advice, from alternative medicine to energy yawns - we just can't get enough of that musky, mudlike taste. Brain Gym is just one small tile in an immense and frightening mosaic of fantasy.