Monday, June 29, 2015

I shuddle to think what could happen

When I was a growing up, there was precious little need for parents to chauffeur their young kids around.The reasons were pretty simple: there was no place to go that you couldn’t walk to, and nothing to do when you got there, anyway. The only organized activities for grammar school kids were hockey (boys) and Little League (ditto). Although parents would schlepp boys to a 5 a.m. hockey practice, both hockey and Little League were pretty much walkable.

While I was in grammar school, I did take piano lessons, given by the parish organist in the tiny living room of her three decker, conveniently located right next door to our school. Mrs. B. was a widow, and sending your daughters to her for “piano” was considered something of a charity. She charged a buck for a half-hour lesson.

Although I “took” for five years, I never actually learned to play much of anything, probably because I was immune to the charms of practicing, and my parents had better things to do than force the issue.

My friend Bernadette and I arranged our lessons so that we went back to back, the one hanging around on Mrs. B’s living room couch while the other thumped away at some simple minded piece from the Schaum (color-coded) piano course. Forget Für Elise. We mastered Crunchy Flakes, and Wun Long Pan, The Famous Chinese Detective. Mostly we mooned around hoping for a glimpse of one of Mrs. B’s devastatingly handsome teenage sons.

Other than the boys (whom we seldom saw), the best thing about taking from Mrs. B. was that there were no recitals. From the parents’ viewpoint, the best thing – other than it costing a buck – was that you could – ta-da – walk.

Things got a bit trickier in high school, which was way over on the other side of the city, with poor after school hours bus service. Until sisters and friends started getting licenses, we relied on rides from parents if we had to attend an evening function, or if we wanted to go to a mixer at St. John’s.

But this was, of course, a half-century ago, and the times have changed a couple of times since then.

And one of the consistent changes is that kids have more formal things to do, and nothing seems to be within walking distance. (Maybe the walking distance thing is a function of growing up in a city. Maybe suburban Boomer kids had to be ferried places.)
But having those things to do means that kids have more places to go, and parents have to get them there.

What a drag, apparently.

To solve the problem of kids on the go, and over-programmed parents with no time (or maybe it’s interest) in getting them there, we now have Shuddle, a “ride-hailing service designed for children of busy parents,” which recently introduced “an app that lets kids as young as 7 summon a car themselves.”

Shuddle, created by former SideCar co-founder and CFO Nick Allen as a sort of Uber for minors, now has a companion app that lets the kids book the rides. Called ShuddleMe, the app lets any smartphone-equipped kid who doesn’t need a booster seat can schedule their own rides up to an hour ahead of time.

“We’ve actually had parents say that they went out and bought their kids a phone so they can use this service,” Allen told BuzzFeed News. “That’s how big a pain point shuttling kids is.” (Source: Buzzfeed, via my sister Trish, who did her share of shuttling over time).

Lest you think that this will be a case of “kids gone wild”, parents will be kept informed, and will be prompted to okay any ride. Plus, both kids and drivers will have a password to make sure they get in the right car, which should work, because a seven-year old will never forget a password.

Shuddle started out in San Francisco (why are we not surprised), but with a recent funding round of nearly $10M (why are we not surprised), they’ll be expanding.
If I were a parent, I would certainly be wary of this one.
Sure, they check out the drivers, but it seems that it will just be a matter of time before someone slips through the exhaustive background check cracks. And that password? How difficult would it be for a practiced perv to con even the most sophisticated, smartphone using seven year old into thinking that they were the Shuddle person for them.

Older kids, I would imagine, would figure out a way to temporarily take possession of mom or dad’s phone, and order up and okay a day out for themselves.

In addition to the ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ issues, I just find this kind of sad.

Your kid gets into the Uber Shuddle and wants to tell you what happened at soccer, ballet, Tristan and Isabella’s birthday party. Only you’re not there. The hired hand is at the wheel.
Sure, you could Facetime with your little ones, but, hey, if you’ve got time to Facetime, how come you don’t have time to shuddle for yourself?

I’m sure all the constant pick ups and drop offs are a drag. I’m sure that Shuddle looks like a real boon to harried parents. I’m sure it’s easy to get sucked into thoughts of empowering your kids to be independent, smartphone wielding consumers. Aux barricades, digital citoyens. But to me this sounds like something that should be outsourced as a last resort.

Seriously, what’s next?

Wait, I’ve got it, At least some of those Shuddle kids must have boring, pedestrian, icky chores to do. How about an app like TaskRabbit – we could call it TaskBunny – that lets rich kids hire poor kids to do their home tasks for them. Rich kids get to keep most of their allowance, and get empowered to act as mini-capitalists. Poor kids get walking around money. Win-win, I’d say.


Over on her blog (Hello Lampost), my cousin Ellen has an interesting take on the advantages of being one of today’s kids with concrete things to do. Not as in order-up-a-ride-on-Shuddle things to do, rather as in being able to take lessons, explore an interest, master something challenging, etc. – things that weren’t available to us as kids. Although us kids of yesteryear had some compensating balances, there are definitely some advantages to todays approach.

No comments: