Sunday, May 06, 2007

Social Networking and Responsibility.

It's Sunday morning and I guess I feel like preaching.

Two items on The Chronicle of Higher Education's The Wired Campus new site once again had me pondering how society constantly must reshape its mores to meet the needs of the world around them. The first article is about how the University of Minnesota at Duluth has forbidden its student athletes from posting to any social networking site.

(Image courtesy of apophenia :: making connections where none previously existed)

University officials say they will lift the social networking ban next year, after they've had a chance to discuss online discretion with student -athletes But if the institution does reinstate social networking, students may
still feel that they’re just one embarrassing photo post away from
losing their privileges once more. Of course, that could be exactly
what the university wants.

The second item, entitled, Threat on MySpace Leads to Expulsion, talks about a student expelled from a community college for suggesting that other students in his dormitory "needed to be shot." In hindsight the student agrees his comments were "ill-considered", but he insists he meant no harm.

What strikes me about these two articles is twofold: on one hand I am appreciating the human drive to socialize even as we spread ourselves afar. Social networking sites are the equivalent of the city apartment building with the too-thin walls where everyone can hear what everyone else is saying. For too long everyone believed we were becoming too distant from each other, too aloof. But the current generations of social networkers are redefining what communal life is all about. We decried that too many people don't know their neighbors next door and are aghast when something awful happens. Its always, "I didn't know them that well. They kept to themselves. They were very private." The people who use social networking sites eschew that kind of privateness and let all of the world see who they are, warts and all.

Which leads me to my second insight, the older generations who are now in positions of power are not comfortable with this kind of openness and are trying to hard to protect these people from themselves. As one commenter on the community college expulsion article stated:

People who state that they want to harm others should be taken seriously and should receive counseling. These people are trying to tell us something is wrong. Arrest and/or expulsion doesn't address the problem. There are time bombs ticking out there and we need to diffuse them BEFORE they explode.

This comment is overkill on so many different levels its ridiculous. We don't have enough qualified counselors to handle the workload if we placed everyone who stated they wanted to "shoot you" or "knock your block off" into counseling. Statements like that are brought about out of passing frustration. The number of people who act on these statements are minuscule, and if they are going to act on these statements then no amount of counseling is going to help.

As the means of communication shift more into the hands of the people we are going to have to rethink our expectations and responses to instances such as these. We have, for a long time, been teaching our children about their "rights," the right to express yourself as you see fit; the right to listen to whatever music you choose; the right to follow your dream and become what you want. What is often missed both in the home and in schools is the other side of the coin, the commensurate responsibility to use those rights sensibly with the understanding that we are all held accountable for our actions.

That's my sermon for this morning. Have a wonderful rest of the day.

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1 comment:

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