Monday, September 5, 2011

My boys were playing with friends last week, and the game of choice was making silly videos with their cameras. My boys are seven and five. Their friend burst into the room with joy, eager to show me the video she couldn't wait to put on YouTube. Of course I paused to contemplate how much the world changes in a generation, but I quickly recovered and grasped the teachable moment. I told the kids they should always remember that once something is out there on the Internet, you can't ever take it back. "Oh, we know Ms. Laurie," they said. The kids ran off to play again; they didn't really post the video, but it wouldn't surprise me if they knew how to do it.

This week, another situation brought my point home. I received an email that had been forwarded to hundreds of people. It wasn't chain mail or a silly joke; it was serious. Here's a little exercise to illustrate. Imagine someone you work with has been implicated in criminal activity. Imagine how anyone with knowledge of the situation would respond and discuss official information. Personal might not be the right word to describe those electronic conversations, but at least you might expect some level of privacy. Now imagine every word, among a dozen involved parties, is leaked to the press.

I have a stake in the situation, and of course I felt like I deserved to be informed. I wanted the juicy tidbits, just like any other good gossip. And I truly believe the person who forwarded the email had good intentions, not to gossip or for personal gain, but to bring the situation into the light for open discussion. But I also felt like the method violated the people involved and their right to privacy. They had only written their comments for a limited audience, and didn't get a chance to revise for the masses.

Here's the connection. I warn my kids about how 'public' the Internet is, but sometimes I forget. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, they're all out there. But sometimes I forget that when I send an email to someone, I can't ever take it back. I'm trusting that other person to use discretion. Hopefully one of the good things to come from all this is remembering that we're all at each other's mercy, really, when it comes to discretion.

Here's hoping I remember this lesson, not just for my kids, but for myself.

Tonight's music: Enjoying my Muse station on Pandora tonight. The highlight was Your Woman by White Town.

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