When I was in grade school, I used to go to my friend A.D.’s house to borrow her encyclopedias. That, aided by my local library’s Dewey Decimal System, was how I wrote research papers. By the time I went off to college I owned a laptop computer, the size and heft of which rivaled a linebacker’s lunchbox. It was not until I graduated that people began carrying cellular phones with some regularity; at the time, the convenience of being able to call someone while mobile was both epic and Earth-shatteringly expensive.
And just this past weekend, my three-year-old nephew taught me how to use my new iPhone.
At the risk of sounding old, times have changed.
Now, as I dig my heels in, reticent to be pulled along into the world of technology, I have to remind you that I was once your age. And back then, I was the one advanced enough to show my mother how to use a VCR. I was hip. I was up with the times. And I had enough time to learn from those who sat beside me on a porch swing, in the fresh air, listening to their words intermingle with the sound of the birds. There was no constant ding of a phone. There was only wisdom.
If they had an audience today, they would implore you to be cautious of what you post online. In their spirit, I offer this advice.
- Do not joke about topics that are not funny. All too often I come across words and phrases and threats and thoughts that are not funny. Case in point, people post and repost statements about suicide or homicide or prejudice that receive ‘likes.’ Let me suggest that there is nothing to like about a cry for help or a horrific tragedy, not to mention a bigoted thought or threat. People who suffer from mental illness or have thoughts about suicide need help. Those that are affected by tragedy need support. Individuals or groups of people that have experienced prejudice need understanding. In our society today, it is incumbent upon each and every individual to contribute to the growing good. Be a part of that. Don’t be a part of something that could be misconstrued. Think before you post.
- Do not curse. Okay, all your friends say things like wt* or sh*t or om*g or any derivation thereof. You should not. I understand that it may seem totally normal, and accepted in the online environment today. And perhaps it is. At least until you go to your first real job interview and the company looks you up, only to find your normal mode of operating is in inappropriate acronyms. Remind yourself that there is always a better way to express yourself. That is why we have language in the first place: to communicate, not to curse.
- Do not post pictures of yourself (or your friends) in an altered state. Tagging your inebriated friend in a photo is a recipe for disaster, as is posting one of yourself. Instead, use your phone to find a taxi to take you both home. The consequences of calling people out could be devastating, and one day, I guarantee, you will regret it. Keep your intoxicated pictures to yourself.
- Post only what you want your employer, child, husband, wife or grandma seeing. I recently graced the pages of a few newspapers, alongside my wife, when we received our marriage license in Washington State. Normally, I would not be comfortable with this type of press; however, in this case, we were honored to be on the right side of history. Manage your online presence by posting that which makes you proud. Display only what you stand for. Remind yourself that what is online, stays online, forever.
Amy Andrews is Positively Smitten’s resident woman of worldly wisdom and will be sharing her advice through a weekly series published every Saturday.