Friday, March 29, 2013

Anti-social media

They're always plugged in, tuned in, turned on. Everyone has their own reality show and theme music. And they never want to let go, chill out, or go dark. This is the social media generation and my only hope is that Earbaby doesn't become so consumed with it that she forgets that every moment, random thought, or event doesn't have to be recorded for posterity.

EB's generation is unlike any other. But the similarities that make today's teenagers like their parents and their parents before them are also what makes them vulnerable to what I call the anti-social media.

It used to be that teenagers made bad decisions, worked through them, matured, and left the past behind, only to revisit their sepia-covered, homogenized and cleaned-up versions when they met their peers again at high school reunions. Granted, some people still held grudges with the mean girls and the jerk jocks, but 10, 20, 30 years later, if we're smart, we've learned to forgive and move on.

Now that permanent record your parents warned you about when you got into trouble actually exists somewhere on the internet. We've decided to record every indiscretion (hello, underage drinking, risque party behavior) and post it for future friends, family, neighbors and employers to see. Every random thought, no matter how banal, is worthy of a tweet. Every plate of food must be posted on Facebook. We must check in everywhere we go. (Hello FB friends, I'm out of town, feel free to break into my house, since I mentioned earlier that I forgot to lock my back door on my way out! Oh, and since I forgot to check my privacy settings, this could go out to the entire FB community!)

Some of this is amusing, or just plain stupid. But I'm also concerned that the pathological need to record every thing you do is giving birth to a generation of sociopaths.

Think about the Steubenville, Ohio tragedy where a young girl got so drunk, she fell unconscious and was carried around like a rag doll and sexually assaulted. Two of the boys involved were found guilty of the rape, but it took an outcry from the community to even bring charges because members of the revered football team was involved. The girl was underage, she made a bad decision in drinking, much less becoming incapacitated. But a bad decision is only that. It wasn't license to assault, photograph and dehumanize her. The real bad guys were the ones convicted, as well as those who stood by, did nothing, or took pictures and sent them over the internet. That kind of uncaring, sociopathic behavior is indefensible.

Granted there were rapes, gang rapes and lots of drinking, drugging, and criminal behavior when I was in high school and in college. It came down to the proverbial he said, she said. And while there was no photographic evidence, I'm starting to wonder if the recording element in these assaults is part of the reason they are exacerbated.

See, everyone is in a reality show with their own theme music. Some of these sociopaths in training already lack empathy and violating another human being, either through sexual assault, or another violent attack like a beating, is just another episode.

EB isn't on Facebook the way she used to be. She does still follow people on Twitter and Instagram. Her big thing right now is the neverending texting. But every argument, misunderstanding, disagreement with a friend has recently been because of something that was read, retweeted, or posted on some social media site. I've advised her to stay off these sites when she wants to talk (yes, talk, not text) with her friends. We still haven't evolved to the point where people can tell when you're joking, or being facetious, or even being dead serious. There aren't enough emoticons yet to express what you mean.

When she is upset because of something she posted that was misinterpreted, I say a version of "I told you so." (Yes, I know, not helpful.) But I want her to understand real privacy, not the teen version of privacy, which means "everybody but my parents." I want her to understand that anything that is posted can be hacked and looked at by anyone. That her bad decisions now don't have to follow her forever. And this isn't a reality show.

This is her real life.

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