I felt sick to my stomach.
The source of my illness was an email alert regarding Rutgers freshman, Tyler Clementi. This young man committed suicide after a disgraceful and heinous invasion of his privacy. His roommate streamed video on the internet of Tyler having an intimate encounter with another man.
We can talk about how horrible this is. We can gasp, shake our heads, and ask how Tyler’s roommate could possibly think this behavior is ok. I believe that first, we should take a look at the example that has been set.
We live in a world where individuals are splattering every minute of their lives online for public consumption. From the extended train wreck called reality TV, to the simple day-to-day exploits that many (myself included) sprinkle liberally across the Internet, we need to take a look.
Why do people do it? What is it that drives people to splay their lives open in such a fashion? While we cannot hope for a single explanation that addresses these situations, I do believe there is an underlying aspect that permeates most of these situations. Fear.
I spoke with a friend this morning, someone who is probably even more deeply saturated in the digital realm than I am. We were talking about going on vacations, the kind where you don’t take a computer. I recounted that another friend had recently returned from a 10-day trip to Greece. While on her vacation, her cell phone and computer remained at her apartment in the US. As I shared this tale, my other friend quickly stammered that she couldn’t possibly do that. She spoke of a trip she took to some idyllic island where the lack of cell service left her antsy, agitated, and thinking that investing in a satellite phone was a good idea.
I don’t propose to understand why she has such a hard time disconnecting. Speaking from my own experience, I’vewritten about disconnecting here before.On some level this deep desire to stay connected comes from the fear of missing out, the fear of being left behind, and the fear of being forgotten.
What message are we sending the next generation when we spend our time dialed up and logged in? What message are we sending them when we fail to educate youth about discretion and privacy in all realms – digital and otherwise?
The message we are sending is that these fears are founded and that the behaviors that come from them are acceptable. This is categorically wrong, and it is up to those of us walking first on the digital path to shine a brighter light.