Friday, July 11, 2008

bye-bye, fourth

I recently read a book by Cory Doctorow called Little Brother. In it, Cory talks about how this current generation of teenagers is the most surveilled group of people ever in the history of mankind.

It's sad to me, and when I talk to kids I often tell them about how free teens were when I was a kid, in the 70s and 80s. In fact, when I was born, you didn't just automatically get a Social Security number. I imagine I could have lived my whole life without one. When I was a kid, you could have just dropped off the face of the earth and nobody would ever have known it. Now, that's pretty much impossible. Yeah, we had freedom to do stupid things, too, like getting fake IDs and going out to bars, or skipping over to Arizona for Spring Break because the drinking age was eighteen and nobody cared anyway. There were lots of ways for kids, boys especially, to vent their wildness, and those opportunities today just don't exist. Yeah, we didn't have the Internet and video surveillance cameras and No Child Left Behind mandates from the government and Gitmo detainees and the NSA listening to and reading everything we did, and we didn't have school shootings, either.

I mention this because, as I visit schools and read to kids and talk to them about the things I write about, I realize that in the past few years, we have all but erased portions of the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Fourteenth, and now, with the passage of FISA this week, Fourth Amendments to the US Constitution. I know that we've been told since 2001 that terrorists hate us because of our freedoms, so I'm thinking that if we get rid of a few more protected liberties and Constitutional Amendments, the logic is... pretty soon they'll start loving us.

We are making kids afraid to read and afraid to write, and their fears are well-founded. And when kids get scared enough, and they don't have a lot of ways to express themselves and vent the natural wildness of youth, bad things happen and society suffers. Remember what Ben Franklin said over 200 years ago, that people willing to sell off liberty in exchange for security deserve neither one.

I'm pretty old. It doesn't matter as much for me as it matters for my own kids and the kids I write for. Because there are moments of pure and wild freedom that the young people in my books get to experience, and I hope that reality does not become exclusively confined to the printed word, because who knows how much longer we'll be allowed to tell stories.