Higgins: The danger of being cleverWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last year may go down as the year of social (if not employment or political) suicide by means of the the “selfie,” thanks in large part to the desire of middle-aged men to be seen as sexy and an unfamiliarity with the ramifications of current technology. 2014, however, will likely see a far larger group miserably fail while intent on being seen in the same medium as amusing or clever.
In fact, this may be one of the greatest dangers facing any of us who post and tweet in the days and years ahead. The latest technologies in social media allow each and every one of us the power not only to connect, but to participate instantly in the lives of our family, our friends, our political leaders and even those we admire most around the world (as long as we don’t do it while driving).
As has been said however, “with great power comes great responsibility.” So those unfamiliar with the double-edged sword of social media carries danger equal to, if not greater than, its supposed benefits. Use it wisely and it might make you famous (for at least for 15 minutes or so). Use it poorly, however, and it might brand you with a scarlet letter for the rest of your days.
It was one thing in the past when, gathered with friends in a closed social setting, one could offer what was thought to be a clever response or an amusing retort … and it fell utterly flat. In such a setting, companions could forget the minor social breach or forgive the humorless faux pas without the conversation breaking stride. When the next day arrived, the entire embarrassing episode would have faded into the past and could be ignored, except by acquaintances even more insensitive than you, willing to breach decorum to remind you of your prior lapse in judgment.
What we see during this Winter Olympic year however, is an endless stream of hapless politicians, clueless cultural icons and largely unknown morons performing in the non-medal events of “back-pedaling relays,” “synchronized mea culpa,” or occasionally digging in their heels over an error while the world buries them in ignominy. While none is likely to win medals for their efforts, some of the wiser ones may at least survive the experience and remain on on their respective fields of play.
But why should any of this surprise us? Even the best comic occasionally fails with new material. Even the best actor stumbles periodically when ad-libbing a scene. Even those of us who spend hours each week trying to string words together in order to make a cogent point or seeking a smile from a well placed bit of sarcasm do so under a constant fear of failure. Even after agonizing over every word choice, every punctuation mark and with the benefit of constant rewrites that fill the wee hours of the morning. Even after all of that, we too sometimes fail on an epic scale.
Thanks to this modern age of instant electronic communication with every other person on the planet, however, such inconsequential remarks no longer exist as private moments and do limited damage. Thanks to devices that feed the often reckless need for self-aggrandizement, there are no longer off-color jokes that fail, potentially misinterpreted remarks that fall flat or responses that somehow escape our mouths before our brains can properly edit (if not censor) them.
Trying to say something funny or clever, while simultaneously competing to be the first to say it is perhaps too much to ask of anyone and inevitably leads to two things:
- A better than average failure rate in such attempts.
- The law of unintended consequences eventually playing a role for the individuals involved with such electronic dissemination.
So what does this mean for all of us? The temptation to compete in this new playing field of quips and quotes not only remains, but will only increase. So too, however, will society’s (and our employer’s) monitoring of such activity and the possibility of dire consequences resulting from their wider propagation. Beyond the “Spiderman” admonition used earlier, perhaps those challenging the odds might also wish to carefully weigh them.
Like drinking and driving, you may in fact successfully navigate the process (at least once), but before attempting such senseless behavior, you may wish to carefully weigh the potential for permanent destruction in the name of such temporary triumph. There’s small enough reward for such social media brilliance, but there’s a great danger indeed in the mere attempt these days to be clever.