Saturday, January 22, 2011

Internet Impulse Control

A student in the Kansas City area was dismissed from a nursing school over a photo of her posed with a placenta they were studying in class that she posted on Facebook (a judge later reinstated her to allow her to take exams). Two high school teachers were fired from their jobs in NYC after posting inappropriate messages to students, and a third remains out of work after posting a photo showing her kissing a former student. A woman in Connecticut was fired from her job as an EMT after criticizing her boss and posting it. College professors are beginning to ban cell phones (and even laptops) from classrooms; calling them more a distraction than an aid as students use them not only to take notes, but to keep up their social networking. 

It's a growing sign of the times and of the technology that we use and sometimes abuse in a never ending cycle of dependency. Like most other addictions, such behavior often leads to poor impulse control ... and eventually to exhibitions of foolish behavior. While no less prone to such behavior (and having perhaps shown a past predilection for it in other ways), I find myself with little guilt where social networking is concerned. 

The limited wisdom that I have attained has fortunately been second hand. This is not to say that I am not active on things like Facebook; but only to say that perhaps being a generally more private person, I tend to limit the things that I am willing to share. 

As some of you now reading this will know, I put up a link to each of the postings to my blog on my Facebook page. I do this in a vain and perhaps vague attempt to lure the occasional new reader onto the site (not that I get any monetary reimbursement for doing so), and to notify those who regularly read it that another of my unscheduled efforts has occurred. I likewise share the odd picture taken or sent my way and what I consider to be the occasional clever thought that I come up with. (Wait, maybe that should be the other way around.) What you will not find from me however are the times that I get up or go to bed, the things I eat, the opinions that I have of my bosses or employers, or the status of my love life; none of which quite frankly would make very interesting reading. 

I exhibit this limited forbearance for no other reason than to keep me out of trouble (something that I have not proved particularly adept at over the years). I'm not afraid, but instead cautious; since I recognize that what we're talking about are not only issues of personal privacy, but that of others as well. I do not have the right to violate that privacy, and in fact have obligations to respect it. As is often the case with increases in our access to technology and with our ability to communicate however, there is far too often an interval between gaining it and the ability to use it wisely. 

We've only had the telephone since 1876, email since 1971, the first hand-held cell phones since 1973, and the first phone with web surfing capabilities since 1996. Facebook came along later still in 2004, and Twitter in 2006, so it's only in the last few years that this perfect storm of instant communication technology has been at our fingertips. Small wonder that we're still figuring out how to do little more with it than stupid human tricks. 

While I fear that all of the final answers on the subject will likely come from generations far younger than mine, there might be something that those of us with thinner and grayer hair might have to offer in the way of wisdom. We might suggest that using this marvelous ability to communicate might be better served by doing less of it. We might offer the opinion that a little mystery about our lives for friends and loved ones is anything but a bad thing. We might say that telling everyone of every waking thought that we have serves no one, especially ourselves. 

Maybe its time that we all did some sort of a 'preview' of what we are about to share before actually doing so. Maybe its appropriate that we attempt to think about how others might view our personal gems before placing them in these all too public settings. Maybe its long past time that we realized that every peccadillo and indiscretion that we place out there in cyberspace will remain there long after we have achieved room temperature. Certainly therefore, using a little internet impulse control might be the best impulse any of us are capable of.

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