It is more easy to be wise for others than for ourselves. – François Duc de La Rochefoucauld
It was a Sunday morning, and for the first time I heard what would become the familiar high-pitched squeal of dial-up as it came through my computer. I was fifteen.
When the homescreen appeared, my first thought was this was some sort of fake test page, which sounds totally stupid now, and probably then, but I remember that being my first reaction. Because it was just so surreal. The headline, which seemed huge across that 17” screen, said that River Phoenix was dead.
It seemed impossible.
But so did the Internet.
I don’t know if the day I got my first email account would have had such an impact if it hadn’t crossed paths with the death of that amazing boy. But I still remember the goosebumps. Info was still coming in about what happened, who was there, and details were not entirely clear. But there it was. Information traveling at dial-up speed, faster than anything we’d ever known.
Fast-forward eighteen years, and there is an entire generation that doesn’t know what dial-up was. Or River Phoenix .
And I would think that this generation, having grown up not knowing any different, would approach the web with a bit more savvy then we did way back when.
My friend Morgan once wrote a great tutorial explaining the Internet to users d’un certain age. For them, this is a brand new world. They didn’t grow up with computers. But how to explain why today’s ten, twelve, fifteen-year-olds don’t understand the impact of half the things they do online? This worries me. Not just in a safety sense but in terms of the repercussions and responsibilities that come with an internet identity.
Once you’re online, well, it’s hard to go back. And if you’re on Facebook or twitter or other social media sites, there’s no knowing where the things you share end up. Life online is like glitter. Taking a page from Demetri Martin:
The thing about glitter is if you get it on you, be prepared to have it on you forever, because glitter doesn’t go away. Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.
So, if I were 15 today, I really wish someone would explain to me, in a big sisterly way, not an annoying parental way, the tech talk basics:
-Respect your privacy. Learn now that you don’t control much when you’re online. If a site requires a password, there is a reason for it. And giving that password to your friends is stupid. There is very little privacy left in this world wide web. Treasure what you have. Do the same for others.
-Represent yourself well. When you post photos online, anyone can share them. So, be selective. Don’t tell the world where you go to school or where you’re going on vacation. (And explain to your parents why they shouldn’t be posting about their upcoming trip either – they don’t know any better, the poor things. Educate them.)
-Think before you type. The thing about the Internet is it can be like a game of telephone. Only if you do say something wrong or hurtful, it will be in writing. And you can’t take that back. You can’t deny doing it. We all make mistakes, we all say something stupid. But when you post it, tweet it, email it – well, it’s quite a bit more complicated. If there is even a small part of you that believes it could hurt someone’s feelings – don’t post it.
-Have an offline life. The Internet is a wonderful thing. But much of it is vicarious experience, and little of the real thing. Read real books, watch movies in theaters, g to concerts and shop in stores. Connect with people, who will also connect you to more incredible things online. It’s a very cool cycle.
And google River Phoenix. Watch Stand By Me and Running on Empty and The Thing Called Love, amongst many more. He was incredible. He was talented. He didn’t have to die so young. Don’t do what he did.