Speaking at the recent Hay Festival in the United Kingdom, Google executive Eric Schmidt lent the crowd some perspective that everyone with a web-connected device ought to consider. As reported by the Telegraph, Schmidt warned the crowd (young people in particular) about the perils of incessantly posting the particulars of one’s life online.
Schmidt told festival attendees, “There are situations in life that it’s better that they don’t exist. Especially if there is stuff you did when you were a teenager. Teenagers are now in an adult world online.”
He couldn’t be more correct. A natural part of growing up is doing things that you probably shouldn’t. Anyone with a teenager — even the most obedient and meek teenager — knows it’s a time when boundaries get pushed. Independence gets asserted, often to embarrassing or unflattering ends.
In the pre-Internet era, teenagers had the luxury of doing stupid things in relative privacy. This isn’t the case anymore. With the ubiquity of smart phones, tablets and all the other mobile communication folderol the average teen now possesses, those heretofore unknown “youthful indiscretions” have the potential to become the next YouTube viral video.
A term that has arisen in recent years is “over-share.” An example of an over-share might be a detailed soliloquy on one’s most recent trip to the restroom. In short, nobody wants to hear it. Even if they do, it’s likely best that they don’t.
There’s a trend in youth culture that’s oblivious to this. We have raised a generation of public confessors. Gone are the fetters of internal censorship, modesty and shame.
Far too many young people have chosen to live their lives as though it were one long Girls Gone Wild video — metaphorically lifting their shirts for anyone with 30 seconds to ogle.
Sociologists tell us that shared experiences and mutually held definitions are how the members of society bind to one another. The Internet can certainly provide a kind of shared experience, but mere voyeurism — even with willing subjects — does not provide emotional propinquity. We have not drawn together as a people just because we’ve watched another kid flout danger online.
It is not intimate. It is not instructive. More often than not, it only serves to issue a challenge, a la the dare to eat a tablespoon of pure cinnamon without vomiting. Note: It doesn’t appear possible and attempting it can be fatal.
Nonetheless, the Internet is rife with videos of young people assailing the task.
What mother wouldn’t be proud to watch the son she bore and reared hunkered down on all fours, coughing and spewing a long snotty trail of cinnamon puke? Tens of thousands of lucky mothers have gotten the opportunity because that baby she raised had friends willing to capture and post the feat.
It should be an obvious point, but it’s worth reiterating: Once posted, these moments become immortal. They live on well after little Johnny has grown up, graduated from law school and now would like a job.
We’ve all heard the old saying, “it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt.” That sentiment should be amended. It’s all fun and games until your prospective employer, college admissions officer, loan officer, possible investor or potential mate … stumbles onto that 2003 spring break video of you dancing naked on a table wearing a Viking helmet.
While that particular scenario suggests some other flaws in upbringing, lacking the shame to resist broadcasting every taken breath suggests changes are required.