Headmaster’s Thoughts April 2019

These Headmaster’s Thoughts are brought to you by Bright Teeth dental floss.

A recent article in The New York Times disclosed that if you bought a knee brace on Amazon, your name would be given to a chain of physical therapy centers who would then target you with their ads. Be careful what you buy because everything is tracked and your name is sold. Even be careful with what you search for on the Web. They know how old you are, what disease you might have, certainly when you have a cold, what food you eat or order in, when you last had your teeth cleaned (hence our sponsor), and what size shoe you wear.

If you buy an airline ticket and download your boarding pass, the majority of the page will have advertisements for the destination, such as car rentals, with a bare quarter of the page representing your actual boarding pass.

If you look up any data of interest on Google, you will often be subjected first to an advertising video. It probably will last 30 seconds, but in some cases, you will be allowed to skip the remaining 25 seconds if you press “skip ad” after 5 seconds. 5,4,3,2,1, now! Google will record the data you researched and will quickly have sold that information to any relevant company.

Welcome to the world of advertising and information collection. They are really just one world since all the information collected is about you, so that the advertising you receive can be focused on your needs.

We are not a fundraising school. We have no development office or person in charge of such, or even a person in charge of public communications. I intensely dislike the brochures printed by other schools that tell, in quite specific terms, how much each family has given. “Headmaster’s Circle”, “Headmaster’s semi-circle”, “Headmaster’s possible circle”, and so on. I am, of course, not totally serious; there are usually more clever names though often equally mysterious, such as the 1783 society in the case of a school founded in 1920. Odd that one!

But I digress. Clearly, we should make a new push and get in on this boondoggle. We use Canvas as our prime parent portal. Why should we not sell advertising space before a parent can read details about their child? All right! We will allow you to skip the ad after 5 seconds. 5,4,3,2,1, now! Similarly reports cards. They cover the entire page. What a waste! Just like the boarding pass, we could cram the report card into the top quarter of the paper and sell the remaining space to advertisers who know how well your child has done. A good student might get an ad for a computer store and a weak student an ad for a tutorial service. Maybe they could focus on your age. A young set of parents would get ads for a gym chain and an older set, maybe a retirement home?

It will not be York Prep, (it really is not our “thing”), but some school, and California is usually the first in these things, will sell advertising space on their report card page. It is just too easy. As it is, you are invited to join the “Headmaster’s Circle” (or “semi-circle” and downwards) with every communication from most schools (with a convenient envelope). Already, if you look up York Prep on Google, another private school’s website will appear very quickly, and it will may even be in front of ours. They have bought the right to stick their website in front of anyone who looks up any series of words that end in “school”. Am I uncharitable to suggest that this might be considered desperate?

Precision in advertising seems to be everything. On your boarding pass for Houston are advertisements for rental car companies in Houston. On the ticket for the Broadway show, that you have printed at home, are advertisements for a garage and restaurants within walking distance of the theater. Not necessarily negative because it may be useful information (there is always the “silver lining”), but intrusive and scary? Yes! Whoever “they” are, and “they” can be bought, “they” know too much about each of us because “they” track our computer moves.

I am not a member of a social network. Foolishly, according to my internist, I very rarely carry a mobile phone. I have one, but I carry it about one day a month. I still like to shop in stores, and refuse to give my e-mail address when the place I am purchasing gloves, asks for it. I refuse to answer surveys after I have seen a professional or bought something. Because I know that the information on me is valuable and being sold.

So I am not serious when I suggest that your child’s report card will have advertisements on it. I am not serious that before you see your child’s daily Canvas report you will have targeted promotions. I am not serious that the transcript for your child’s college will be sponsored by a bank who will lend you money for your child’s college. But you have been warned that the day will come.

Boy, do I feel depressed! Oh no, I just received a “buy one get one free” ad for an anti-depressant.

Ronald P. Stewart
York Prep School