Careless Whisper

Next Story

Backed Or Whacked: Revenge Of The Dumb Watch

When the Nintendo came out in 1985, there was something of a misconception of what, exactly, it was. For a generation that grew up without computers, much less video games, the NES must have seemed just like the latest toy – a high-tech plaything that, like other toys or the likes of arcade and pinball games, kids would engage with for a short time and then put away.

It wasn’t, of course; the Nintendo was among the first of the new generation of consoles, and games like Dragon Warrior, Super Mario Bros 3, and of course Final Fantasy ended up devouring not just hours, but dozens of hours, entire afternoons and weekends.

Naturally, there was a backlash among the parents. Did anyone else’s parents threaten to unplug their Nintendo or show it the window? And who can blame them? I can just barely imagine now their confusion (more so in another way, which I will get to) over how exactly this new toy was able to command so much of their kids’ valuable time. At the time, that confusion manifested in frustration and rejection, disgust even.

Thirty years later, video games are a mainstream hobby, largely because the kids who played all those games are now the grown-ups. We didn’t grow up with warped minds (though my mother still nurtures a fear, close to a hope, that she was right about video games crippling my ability to be function), and in fact many of us have found that games have become part of our identity, both individually and as a generation. Some of my most cherished memories from that time are of playing games with my friends (comparing progress in Final Fantasy) and my brother (yelling “word” when he beat Shadowgate, and I don’t blame him).

It’s funny to me, then, when I see people my age and thereabouts clucking with disapproval at people who are somehow managing to, in their eyes (and my own, occasionally, I’ll admit), misuse or abuse the tools of social media.

Someone like the now-infamous Carly McKinney (AKA @carlycrunkbear), whose saucy pictures and, let’s be honest, questionable behavior led to her being dismissed from her teaching position.

While I think we can all get behind the idea that we’d like our schoolteachers to be sober while at work, the question of whether she was using the social web wrong is a more difficult one. On one hand, the way she used it exposed her to widespread scrutiny and ridicule, both of her lifestyle and method of broadcasting it.

But isn’t it a rather more future-proof position to say that she was ahead of the curve? This girl is so wrapped up in social media that the question of keeping these things private may never have occurred to her, account setting or not. Isn’t it reasonable to think that if she’s going to share it at all, it’s likely to get out anyway? If it can happen to Zuckerbergs, it can happen to anyone. And she’s 23 — think of kids in elementary school right now, whose digital lives have been kickstarted by blogging parents and who think of the Internet more like how they think of electricity or running water.

Are we become our parents, yelling at a kid for playing Metroid all night because we have no idea what Metroid is? When we think of the social web as a new tool, the latest in the line of tools beginning with, say, BBSes or IRC, aren’t we coming at this thing from a completely different, and perhaps erroneous, angle?

It’s the flip side of the happy coincidence that I described as defining people my age in Generation i. The way we perceive technology may be unique, but it’s not superior. How we relate to something we saw develop parallel to ourselves is different from how we relate to something that was already mature when we were born. Our grandparents think differently about cars than we do, since when many of them were young, the things were comparably scarce, a luxury item. So I think it’s reasonable to posit that the way we think of social media and the Internet is very, very different from the way kids born in the last 10 years do (to say nothing, I hardly need to add, of our grandparents).

Now, certainly, contemporary (as well as recently revised) notions of privacy and publicity are, like so many Nintendos, being thrown right out the window. But just because the rules are being rewritten doesn’t mean there are no rules. Abusing the social web because it’s always changing is like looting during a revolution.

So at the risk of burning my straw man (or woman, as it happens), it actually seems safe to say that Carly’s actions were, in fact, dumb by any generation’s standards. And not thinking about privacy the same way as others is not the same thing as being oblivious of the fact that things you post on the Internet are pretty much unable to be retracted.

But that said, when looking forward a few years it’s hard not to think that we’ll all eventually be in a similar position, if not quite so dire (or ridiculous): Our lives will be indexed and searchable by our bosses, healthcare providers, and significant others. When you were a smoker and how much you smoked, where you spend your time on any given day of the week, how your hair used to look, how you feel about the president, what you’re like when you’re drunk — it’s all valuable to somebody, and it will either be inferred from circumstantial data or you’ll end up copping to it directly whether you know it or not.

That is to say, in a few years, perhaps Carly wouldn’t need to do what she did, because it would already be done — for her and everyone else. And while good privacy policies and smart utilization of services, among other things, will prevent a few catastrophes, but let’s not kid ourselves: The level to which we document our lives online is deepening, even among those (like myself) whose caution regarding such things approaches Luddism. It’s mostly good, but as always, ignoring the bad just makes it worse.

As usual, the world in 20 or 30 years is elusive to the point of imperceptibility. I could be the wrong one, but I think it’s more likely to be these people with their objections to the way others are using technology we only pretend to understand. It’s a petty, passing tyranny, a nimbyism, this short period where they can shake their heads at the deeds of these misguided youths, oversharing the way they do — sexting, and yoloing, and swagging, and what-all, how can they not see this is ruining their lives, rotting their brains?

—Just like how we rotted our brains with late night sessions of Contra.