“Each of you has a permanent school record that will follow you EVERYWHERE!” our teachers warned when I attended school more than fifty years ago.
For many of us those words of caution commanded our attention. While in school we thought twice before doing or saying anything that might jeopardize our chances of being accepted in college or landing a good job. The probability of that record extending beyond those applications never occurred to most students. Today, however, we live in a world where detailed personal information can be sent to a world-wide audience instantaneously. As adults we continue creating our permanent records which do indeed follow us everywhere. Just a few careless words posted online can cause irreparable damage. We see examples on the news or in social media of reputations ruined or careers damaged by a public’s rush to judgment before all the facts are presented.
The lack of face-to- face contact online often removes all inhibitions, emboldening people to say things they would never say in person. I have witnessed this especially in online forums and social media during which some have taken innocuous comments and turned them into angry political or religious tirades. Derogatory remarks often ensue, straining or fracturing relationships. It saddens me to frequently witness individuals carelessly direct judgmental pronouncements toward those with opposing views, sometimes people they hardly know or have never even met!
Despite these troubling conflicts, the popularity of social media suggests to me that many people desire connections with one another, even if it is confined to online interactions. While electronic communication may satisfy this need to connect, relying on it to the exclusion of face-to face encounters can deprive those who do this from developing real life conversational skills. Today many of our daily activities may be conducted without talking to anyone. Gas stations provide for credit cards at the pump; groceries can be delivered to one’s door; people frequently bank, shop, or pay bills using their computers or smart phones. We often have the ability to interact with medical personnel and make appointments through the Internet. A growing number of people today work from the seclusion of their homes. This technology serves as a welcome convenience or a needed respite for those who must interact with the public all day. If used disproportionately, however, these tools stifle the cultivation of meaningful relationships.
The Internet serves as a wonderful resource when we respect its capabilities and limitations. Google searches contain accurate information but also misinformation. Online connections have the capability of bringing people together or driving them apart. Having the answers to our questions at our fingertips can expand our horizons or give us a means of withdrawal from the world.
In 2019 I made the difficult decision to disengage with a volunteer organization which occupied much of my time for so many years, it was akin to a career. One factor which played a part in my decision to leave was the current pressure upon members to embrace an online mentality. Rather than submitting to the push toward more screen time, I decided to avail myself of activities which favor connecting with others on a personal level. Fulfillment for me is sharing real life experiences with those who accompany me on my life journey. Taking walks, laughing or crying together, offering or graciously accepting support, all are part of the human experience and make the passage so much more enjoyable. Hopefully in doing so, the permanent record I leave behind will be much more than a blip on the screen. It will be the real deal.