Opinion Column

THE DUEL: Tech solution abuses the young


In The Duel, 24 hours columnists David Eby and Kathryn Marshall battle over the issues of the day. Who's the winner this week? Fire us an email at van24feedback@sunmedia.ca.

THIS WEEK'S TOPIC - Using high-pitched noise to keep teens away from hangout spots - good or bad thing?

Recently, a fire set in a Vancouver schoolyard playground was blamed on teens by adults, although there was no evidence to suggest the age of the arsonist.

So what else is new in the relationship between generations?

Read Kathryn Marshall's column.

What was different this time is that the rightly annoyed parent advisory group, which had fundraised for the playground of the affected school, had a new plan. They want to solve the problem by activating a device in the schoolyard at night, called the Mosquito, that selectively subjects people under the age of 25 to loud, annoying and potentially harmful noise.

Here's how the device works.

As you age, and each time you listen to a Justin Bieber album, you lose the ability to hear high-frequency sounds. The Mosquito's technology exploits this aging principle, sending out its high-frequency noise at the volume you would hear if you were three feet from a lawnmower, but only if your ears are young enough.

It's like a really loud dog whistle that could cause hearing damage, but for kids and young adults. Of course, no such whistle exists for dogs, because that would be cruel to dogs.

Perhaps I'm exaggerating, because nobody knows whether the Mosquito causes hearing damage to young ears. The reason nobody knows is that no research ethics board will authorize a study of the device on kids and infants, because it could cause permanent injury.

But what has slowed down research ethics boards was apparently no barrier for Vancouver schools. They installed 30 of the devices across the city before the school board stepped in.

At a Victoria McDonald's, a Mosquito broadcasts during business hours. A Mac's convenience store in Victoria activates its Mosquito for 20-minute periods by remote control if "loiterers" are noticed. And when they say "loiterers," you would rightly hear "young people."

Welcome to the slippery slope of the unaffected majority deciding that young adults and kids should live in a world of, at best, extremely annoying noise pollution, and at worst, potential hearing loss. Now that the VSB has given these things the thumbs up, watch out - if they're good enough for schools, why not out front of all urban liquor stores, convenience stores, and fast food restaurants?

Young people have as much right to public space as adults. Our schools shouldn't be the ones leading the charge to take those rights away.