When I was a kid, I loved playing video games (ah, Atari 2600, I knew ye all too well). My parents were absolutely convinced this would do precisely nothing to help me land a job, and they were for the most part right. (There you go Mom, I said it. You can mark the date in your calendar. It’ll be another 30 years before it happens again.)
But (you knew there had to be a “but”) the time I spent wasn’t completely wasted. While I may not have become a professional video game player or even a game designer, I did pick up some skills that translated into the modern work environment. No, I’m not speaking of my twitch-response that more closely resembles ADD than reflexes, nor am I talking about my astounding hand-eye coordination. I am talking about my ability to interact fluidly with a GUI, as well as my ability to quickly pick up new technologies such as HTML.
So why do I bring this up so many years after the fact (other than to play a rousing game of “No really, I was right”)? As I look around at what the kids are doing these days (and I have to admit I get a small thrill out of not falling in that category anymore, since I have long equated “kid” with “dumbass”), I see a lot of hyperventilating about social media. Do a quick search on Google about “dangers of social media for college students” and you’ll see all sorts of stuff ranging from common sense advice (some of which I’ve even discussed before myself) to what can only amount to pearl-clutching inanity (like this article which discusses a woman who walked off a pier into Lake Michigan while texting, and another who walked into a fountain.) Seriously, if you’re going to blame texting for people who can’t NOT WALK OFF A PIER, you and I don’t live in the same world. (When I was a kid, Mom would tell my sister and me to take a long walk off a short pier. Even then we knew she was kidding. At least we hoped she was.)
Meanwhile, back here in reality, there are people who get paid to handle all of a company’s social media, covering Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. They tend to be very smart, very creative, and very good at their jobs. They have to be, because everybody wants to do that gig, and only the ones who are good at it survive. And the best way to be good at it is to understand it like you were born to it. That means using it every day, understanding what the trends are, where they’re going, not just what’s hot this week but what’s going to be hot next week and beyond.
The people who are going to have those jobs aren’t the ones who are being told they need to be afraid of social media (or if they are, it’s because they ignore the voices that warn them to be afraid). Cautious? Perhaps, but balanced with a greater amount of daring and willingness to take calculated risks. Holding back, or worse being held back, will damage them far more than any foolish things they may do as they explore all the possibilities inherent in these new technologies.
When I was younger, into my mid to late teens, I was introduced to the world of BBSes. For those of you born into the internet age, these would be something like little local versions of the internet that primarily consisted of what would amount to a few to several discussion groups (somewhat like Slashdot with less tech, or 4Chan with fewer trolls, although some boards defied even those generalities) and turn-based games, with limited email capabilities between BBS users.
One of the interesting features of the BBSes I frequented (and to the best of my knowledge all of the boards at that time) was that all the users signed up using pseudonyms. These were often silly, occasionally very personal handles that most users would carry with them from one board to the next and would keep for years. Changing one’s pseudonym was in essence to change one’s identity, for within that community you were known in many cases only by that name you had given to yourself (or in some cases a derivation thereof, if a nickname developed naturally).
It never occurred to me much at the time, but there was a particular use to those false names that seems to be lost on a generation that has grown up with social media. In the rare event that someone was stupid enough to admit to having committed a crime on one of these BBSes (usually hacking, because hey, it was that kind of crowd), there was no way to identify them to the police unless you happened to know who they actually were. Even if they had shown up to an in-person meet up (yes, even in the dark ages we did that on occasion) the chances are they went by their online handle rather than trying to explain “Hi, I go by Death Kitty online, but my real name is Billy.” Aside from the cognitive dissonance of trying to keep two separate names straight, it didn’t even matter. You knew them by their online name and personality, and that was the important thing.
So what happens when Death Kitty admits to hacking the local branch of Bank of America? Do you call the cops and say, “Hey, I’ve got a tip for you, there’s this guy, I don’t know what he looks like, but his name is… um… Death… Kitty… I have to go now.” Yeah, not gonna happen.
Contrast that with the recent trend of social media crime-braggers. Seriously? I can create 10 fake, anonymous email accounts in as many minutes, and email didn’t even exist when I was born. I can follow that up with a few false social media accounts tied to those accounts, and then I can finish it off with NOT BRAGGING ABOUT CRIMES I COMMITTED. Not that I’ve committed any. That’s my story, Your Honor, and I’m sticking to it. (See how it’s done, kids?)
I understand that social media is everywhere these days. It’s as unavoidable as the nearest computer or cell phone. But this odd compulsion to share everything with the world is something I don’t get. That’s what priests and therapists are for. If you have to put it out there, do yourselves a favor: do it under an assumed name.
The Gaunt Man
Looks like my plan for world domination is right on track. You can find my advice on how to get ahead in business over at the LibertyGuide Career Advice Blog today, along with a lot of other great bloggers. Apparently they liked my ideas on how to succeed in the workplace (which isn’t surprising, given that’s where I work). While you’re there be sure to take a look around at the intellectual and career resources they have available, particularly if you or someone you know is looking for a job in the liberty movement.
That’s one blog down, the rest of the internet to go…
It’s a sad fact of the internet that it will never be civilized. Maybe this makes me sound like a pessimist, but I’ve actually been on the internet since before there WAS an internet (raise your hand if you actually know what a BBS was), and we had to deal with trolls even back then. It’s been over twenty years, and there are kids whose parents weren’t even old enough to be among those troublemakers out there now clogging the information highways and byways with their own version of “wit.” So let’s all accept that we will never be rid of these little minds and move on to the things we can control, which is our own behavior.
What particularly saddens me in this regard is that every few months something comes along that really shouldn’t require a new set of rules, and yet somehow it does. This is becoming more prominent as social media, the cancer of the internet age, continues to dominate the landscape in more and more mutated forms. It would seem obvious that certain basic courtesies should be sufficient to carry us from one platform to the next, and yet every time some new contender comes along to become the hot new product, people flock to it and begin the cycle of awful behavior all over again despite the fact that they themselves are complaining about that same awful behavior.
Speaking as someone who has, in fact, engaged in some of this awful behavior in the past, allow me to be the first to apologize and take the lead in proposing some sensible reforms. If we all voluntarily started to follow these guidelines, the internet would become a tolerable place. If even some folks (my friends) were to do this, I could at least enjoy my little corner of it.
First, please stop with the cryptic comments. “Well, that could have gone better.” Whether it’s tweets, status updates, blog posts, or anyplace else, you are not communicating, you are infuriating. It doesn’t engender sympathy; it just makes you look like (a) a needy tool or (b) a whiny douche. If you’re particularly lucky you get option (c), both (a) and (b). Whatever the problem is, just spell it out or suck it up. We will be here for you (we are your friends and family after all), or we won’t (in which case you really need to get some better friends, and maybe stop taking your problems to the internet.)
Second, please, for the love of god, stop “checking in” everywhere you go. I really couldn’t give less of a shit where you had lunch, or how many times you visited Bowl-a-Rama last month. And don’t tell me I can “just change the settings” on my social media; you are inflicting this on me, not the other way around, and considering how often Facebook changes my settings for me we both know that’s about as effective as voting Republican in Washington, D.C. anyway.
Third, stop perpetuating falsehoods. The internet is so full of misinformation these days it’s tragic, and the speed with which people assist the spread of this misinformation is mind-boggling. The only thing worse than the trolls who do it for fun are the people who honestly believe they are helping others. You are doing more harm than good, usually because you can’t be bothered to check your facts, and in this day and age that is inexcusable. Snopes.com. Learn it, live it, love it. If you intend to post, forward, or share a single “fact” on the internet in the future, just look it up first. They aren’t infallible, but it’s a start.
Fourth, give some thought to what you do online. I know it’s easy and getting easier every day to do really amazing things in the cyber space, but that also means it’s getting easier every day to do some really annoying and atrocious things too. Given the entire history of humankind, which do you think is more likely to happen, especially when you don’t even give thought to what you do?
Here’s an example: say you’re on some popular social site that lets you post items you are interested in by category. We’ll give it a nice generic name, like Post-trest. Now suppose I can opt-out of following categories of yours I’m not interested in, like cooking. Hey, we both win. I still follow you, so you stay popular, but I don’t have to see a bunch of posts about cooking. But then you decide to start creating a bunch of random new groups like “Baking” and “Grilling” and “Things to Have with Some Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti.” Now I’m forced to decide between abandoning you and having my screen cluttered with disturbing images I don’t want. Nobody wins.
Finally, and on a related note, it’s time we all start treating online conversations more like real-life conversations, with some civility, respect and, dare I say it, a bit less extremism. Even those of us who think we aren’t trolls have certain issues that drive us right under the bridge (and not in that good Red Hot Chili Peppers way.) Remember that generation of kids I mentioned way back at the beginning? The ones who have no idea how to behave in a civilized conversation either online or in the real world? Yeah, I wonder where they learned that.
It’s not anonymity that turns people into raging asshats online; it’s a lack of immediate accountability. When there’s no threat of someone taking you to task in some direct and meaningful fashion, whether by throwing a punch or just throwing a drink in your face, people are more prone to become belligerent, bellicose, and a lot of other B words too. I’m not advocating for violence, either de facto or de jure, as a means of controlling behavior online. Rather I’m advocating for self-control, something that we could use more of in every aspect of our lives, online or not.