6/27: The Double-Edged Sword of Technology

It can unite us, help us with mundane tasks, and entertain us.  Technology is wonderful.  That is, when it’s used appropriately.

The abuse of technology is widespread.  Perhaps, the most recent, shocking incident occurred last week when four middle school students taunted Greece, New York School Bus Monitor Karen Klein.  As if the boys’ behavior wasn’t abhorrent enough, one of them actually posted the video on YouTube under the title, “Making the Bus Monitor Cry.”  Of course, the video went viral and prompted an outcry of support for Klein, including a collection to send Klein on a dream vacation.  (As of this writing, the sum totals more than $650,000 and counting.)

As if their bullying wasn’t bad enough, the boys’ actions resulted in death threats directed toward their families which, in turn, cost taxpayer dollars to address those threats.

For a moment, let’s just focus on their use of technology.  Did they really not get it?  Did they really not understand that the very same technology that allows them to interact with their friends has the power to illuminate their bad behavior?

Children are taught from a very young age that actions have consequences.  If they touch a hot stove, they will burn their hand.  If they talk back to their parents, they will be reprimanded.  So, what makes technology, specifically social media, different?  For starters, perhaps, it has to do with the nature of the technology, itself.  Because electronic media removes the need to physically be in the same space as the communication itself, people can detach from their every day persona and become more brazen.  In fact, this pre-dates social media.  (Think back to the early days of email and chat rooms.)  Unfortunately, the tendency still exists. (Think not so far back to the Anthony Weiner scandal.)

But, that still doesn’t solve the problem at hand.  Why can’t many young people grasp that the use of social media isn’t all fun and games?  Perhaps, that’s part of the answer.  Because these kids have grown up with social media, they have mostly been exposed to the “good” side of it.  Let’s face it, when it comes to sensitive issues, many parents aren’t eager to have a heart to heart with their kid.

Perhaps, as part of their education, students should be required from a young age to participate in forums with those who have been victims of online bullying.  For those who believe it’s not the role of the schools to play parent, tools should be available for parents to teach their children the downside of social media.

Simply put, America’s youth needs to be educated and guided about the nature of technology.