"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."
- Mark Twain
"The new promise of the global economy, the Information Age, unimagined new work, life-enhancing technology - all these are ours to seize. That is our honor and our challenge."
These are the words of President Clinton almost a decade ago in his 1997 State of the Union Address. Regardless of our politics, most of us agreed with the president on this point: the mind-bendingly fast technological innovations of the day - from Internet connections in schools to video conferences in the office - seemed to offer almost limitless possibilities.
Bus Radio, a new service for school buses, is probably not exactly the promise President Clinton, or anyone else, had in mind. The service is just what it sounds like: a radio show, complete with ads, targeted at kids who ride the bus. The service has been promoted to schools as a more age appropriate alternative to the commercial radio that plays on many school buses.
The reason so many people are unhappy about the idea of kid-targeted programming on the bus is that, well, it's kid-targeted. Lately, it seems like kids are always the target for new products and services. And, from where I'm standing, it looks like our kids are starting to feel the hits. A growing body of research shows an important link between commercial messages and a host of problems affecting kids from obesity to aggressive behavior.
Bus Radio does offer an alternative to beer ads and sexually suggestive songs. Even better, it provides cash-strapped schools a new revenue stream. I'm all for a healthy economy and school funding, but not when it comes at the cost of our kids' health. What kids need on the bus is simple: peace and quiet.
At first it might seem ironic that Bus Radio is the product of the Information Age. After all, radios and buses were around a long time before the digital revolution. That's the thing about our Information Age - when we focus on possibilities sometimes we figure out things we could have been doing all along. Sometimes, as in the case of Bus Radio, those possibilities are better left unrealized. At the same time, though, the promise of technology can help us out of a new jam. When I read an article about Bus Radio on a newspaper's Web site, the reader comments, included at the bottom, took up almost ten times as much room as the article itself. And almost all of them said exactly what I'm saying: keep the ads off the school bus no matter their target.
In his 1997 State of the Union, the former president went on to describe the "honor and the challenge" of the era: "We must be shapers of events, not observers. For if we do not act, the moment will pass, and we will lose the best possibilities of our future." Today, that sounds to me a lot like what I always say: watch what your kids watch. That's the only way to make sure we take responsibility for the possibilities we've been given.