Columns, Opinion

THADANI: Eating Away at Tradition

Bianca Pavia sold hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout Cookies for her troop when she was in elementary school. Some from her hometown may have even called her the best.

“I was number one a few years in a row,” she said. “It was awesome. You got an extra badge, and you felt like you won … It was one of my biggest accomplishments as a kid.”

Every year, 4-foot-nothing Pavia would go door-to-door in Utica, New York (with her mom standing close behind on the sidewalk, of course), charming neighbors left and right into buying the beloved cookies.

Although she was never sure how many boxes she would sell in the beginning of the cookie-selling season, she was sure of one thing: she would be number one. Now a senior in Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences, Pavia looks upon her cookie-selling days quite favorably and said it helped feed her competitive spirit as a kid.

“I still tell people about it,” she said.

However, as of this week, this tradition of eager young girls knocking on neighbors’ doors and charming them into buying some Thin Mints or Samoas (whether they want them or not) with their high-pitched voices may be no longer.

The Girl Scouts of the United States of America recently announced that they are launching a “Digital Cookies” pilot program this year. Barbara Fortier, Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts Chief Operations Officer, said in an email that this digital base would make the coveted cookies more accessible to the Girl Scouts and their customers.

As technology continues to seep into every crevice of our lives, this was an inevitable business move by the Girls Scouts of the USA — because, just as Fortier put it, “today’s girls are digital natives.”

“They want and need a cookie program that can teach them modern skills they’ll need to have in order to be leaders in today’s high-tech world,” Fortier said. “Digital Cookie adds 21st century entrepreneurial skills — teaching e-marketing, online commerce, website maintenance, digital order taking and shipping — all vital activities for today’s girls.”

I didn’t know much when I was in elementary school, but I do know that the words “e-marketing” and “online commerce” were definitely not in my vocabulary. (In fact, as a journalism major, those words still aren’t really in my vocabulary). But in today’s world with growing emphasis on science and technology, maybe these words should be instilled in people at a younger age.

Fortier said the traditional door-to-door sales will still be available to the girls, and the digital sales will only act as an additional component. But it seems likely that the traditional practice will quickly fade out once the girls realize how much easier it is to email out a simple link, rather than knock on the doors of intimidating neighbors.

Selling the cookies online could also have an unintended “dark side,” according to a Wednesday Washington Post article. Because each girl will get to set up their own custom webpage, officials and privacy advocates worry about the potential for cyber-bullying, online predators and other dangers of the web, the article said.

At the same time, the article said the organization would use this as an opportunity to teach young girls the basics of online safety (which, in any case, should take precedence over teaching them the words “e-marketing” and “online commerce”).

Although this is a brilliant business move by the Girl Scouts, which I’m surprised has taken this long to execute, it still leaves me with the sinking feeling that our generation has lost yet another thing to the digital age.

Tara DeRosa, a junior in the School of Management and Girl Scout alum, said the main point of the personal cookie sales was for girls to gain confidence and learn from one another. By moving the core of these sales online, she said, the essence of these values may get diluted.

DeRosa said she initially found the idea of knocking on strangers’ doors very intimidating as a little girl. But as the cookie-selling season went on, she said she learned how to approach strangers and gained more courage to talk to people, a trait she still exerts today.

No matter how you order the cookies, the wonderful taste of them will still remain the same. But can you really replicate the sweetness of a little girl knocking on your door, vying to be the number one cookie seller for her troop?

“In the end, I would always sell a lot of cookies,” DeRosa said as a matter of fact. “But I don’t know if it was because I was cute or because they really just wanted Girl Scout Cookies.”

It was probably a combination of both.

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