My son has been my companion in the kitchen since he was born. I have vivid memories of him as a small blob-like baby perched in his car seat, watching me make apple pie as I talked to him, flashing measuring cups, naming ingredients, dancing to some CD or another. And now, even though he often has better things to do (like play Legos, for example), when I call him from the kitchen, he often comes to dump things into the mixing bowl, to stir or to turn on the mixer, and to lick the beaters.
My husband and I had a disagreement recently about whether or not I. should be allowed to use the stand mixer on his own. I wouldn't exactly call it "unsupervised," but there are times when I let him turn the mixer on by himself as I'm rummaging in the cupboards to get something. S. thinks that this is not a good idea; that I. will stick his hands or arms into the mixer, and there will be disaster. I feel like I've given him enough instructions and that he has good enough instincts that he can be trusted with the mixer now. And while occasionally there is flour everywhere when he turns it on, he has not yet let me down, and he usually starts it at the lowest speed. Still, S. does have a point; I. has occasionally done bizarre, impulsive things (like stick a bead up his nose), despite his usual rational behavior.
The question is, at what point do you decide that a child is ready for certain kinds of freedom--freedom that could give them a chance to offer their talents to the world? For how long do you protect them? What do you do to make sure that their encounters with others are as safe as possible--that they don't hurt themselves or other people?
The same kind of question comes up when we let people--even adults--use any social networking tool. Mel recently called my attention (via the Prompt-ly list) to a project called The Listserve, which, when it reaches 10,000 subscribers (and it just has) will allow one of its subscribers each day to send an email, consisting of whatever they want, to the list. The difference here, of course, is that while I have some sense of how my son will operate the mixing bowl, we have no idea who the other 9,999+ subscribers are, and how they will use this common tool. Like the things that come from the stand mixer, a lot of good could come from this list. New ideas. Community. Global goodwill. Rallying around social justice projects. It could help to overcome the silo-experience of social media, where we find ourselves talking to friend lists and reading blogs and following pinterest boards full of people who are just like us. Then again, the users could send self-promoting advertisements. They could send hate speech. They could use it for cyber-bullying. They could send suicide notes (though there's a hopeful article here from a few years back about how people responded to a suicide note on PostSecret; one hopes that the response would be similarly compassionate and constructive). There's nothing on the site to indicate that the site owner will censor any email, no policy about what will or will not get sent (though an article I read says they will vet email for things like porn or viruses).
(This also reminds me of the "enemy" plug-in that was recently created for Facebook ... and in that case, you could do some real damage without, it seems, any of the positive payoff.)
When I've been reading around to see what other people think of the project, it seems more like people are thinking about what they're going to say, rather than what they're going to get. It's a chance for people to say something with an audience who may actually listen, to say something that will--presumably--not get "lost" in the social media chatter. But what does that focus on authorship say about being a responsible reader? Are we so self-absorbed that we're not even worrying about what other people might say, but are, instead, interested in our own 15 minutes (or so) of fame?
On the one hand, I think that the responsibility for the emails that get sent will rest on the shoulders of the project owners, five masters' students at NYU. Sort of like (though I realize that the analogy is far from perfect) giving your five-year-old power to turn on the stand mixer. If you're going to set him loose, even if you're supervising from across the kitchen, you should make sure he's ready to handle that kind of responsibility. You should give him training. You should be prepared to spring into action if something goes awry. (None of this, I should add, is evident from TheListserve's site.) But maybe the analogy is more appropriate when conceived this way: the makers of the stand mixer, which is a tool, are not responsible for the quality of my cake, or for my five-year-old's fingers. I also think that the responsibility rests on the users. After all, they've signed up for this experience. They've elected membership in this haphazard "community," for better or worse. They are inviting the possibility of radical difference into their inboxes. And opening yourself up to contact with radical difference entails taking a risk.
Maybe some people will say some awful things. I suspect that most of them won't. It's certainly an interesting experiment in social nature.
I signed up for the list. Though I don't typically solicit email, I'm curious. And a pretty large part of me hopes I don't get picked to say something to the world, because I'm not sure I have a gem of wisdom to pass on just yet. I'm the kind of person who sits through many meetings before I speak up, and what I have to say is usually something I've been mulling over for quite some time. I suspect I'd say something about compassion and social justice, and perhaps I'd hatch a project to promote those things, but I'm not going to commit to that today.
What do you think? Who should be responsible for what gets posted to the listserve? Would you sign up? And if you got chosen to speak, what would you say?
And: these cupcakes are made with a whisk, for those days when the stand mixer really does feel too risky.
(Vegan) Lemon Cupcakes
(makes 18-20 cupcakes)
2/3 c. canola oil
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. soy yogurt
2/3 c. soy milk
1/2 c. lemon juice
2 T. lemon zest
2 t. vanilla extract
2 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
Preheat over at 350 degrees, line pan with cupcake liners. Stir together oil, sugar, yogurt, and soy milk. Add the lemon juice, zest, and vanilla. Mix to combine. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour to the liquid mixture in two batches, mixing very well in between each addition. Fill the cupcake liners 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full and bake for 20-22 minutes. Let cool, then frost.
Lemon Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup earth balance margarine, softened
4 c. confectioners’ sugar
1/4 c. + 1 T. fresh lemon juice
4 t. finely grated lemon zest
2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. lemon extract
In a bowl, cream the shortening and margarine and then add the sugar 1/2 cup at a time. After each sugar addition, add a splash of lemon juice and beat well with mixer. Add vanilla and lemon extracts and beat for another 3-5 minutes until smooth and fluffy.