It is always interesting to hear the sound bites that the news media gather in the graduation season. Every person tabbed as a graduation speaker will put their spin on “Oh the places you will go”, with some resorting to reading the whole tome of the same name written by the late Dr. Seuss. Advice given in the latest round of graduation speeches around the country varied widely in both tone and entertainment value. Musician Little Steven Van Zandt pointed out that his job as an adviser was born from his ability to “screw up in everything I have done”. Comic actor Will Ferrell warbled a heartfelt “I will always love you” ala Whitney Houston to the graduating USC Trojans. Oprah Humphrey diluted her own advice to “always speak the truth” by noting that in her case, she earned a lot of money doing so. She then punctuated her remark by making the Johnny (Football) Manziel finger rubbing gesture meant to convey “I am so successful I can rub it in your face.” My favorite quip for this year came from actress Helen Mirren. Mirren told the Tulane University commencement crowd that graduation speakers are always reminded to say something that will be remembered in forty years. She reminded the grads that no matter what your station in life may be, “Nothing good can come out of tweeting at 3 A.M.”
I have never been asked to be a graduation speaker so naturally this made me think, “What advice would I give to current grads that they might remember in forty years?” An idea immediately popped into my head and I realized that A) it would brand me as an old fuddy-duddy and B) it won’t be followed: “Put away the electronic devices for 2.4 hours per day and see what happens.” I picked 2.4 hours because that represents only 10% of each day we spin around on the Earth’s axis, leaving one 90% of the day to do whatever else one wishes to do. I know that there is a good chunk of this 90% of the day that should be spent resting, but remember Mirren’s comment about “tweeting at 3 A.M.” – ‘sleeping’ would not count toward that 2.4 hours away from the din of social media.
I do not want to sound holier-than-thou or flippant about the subject of social media. I do not Tweet, Facebook, or (insert here: whatever the new social media rage of the minute that I am not yet familiar with) and still the world and my life goes on. When people go on and on about the latest piece of “news” (read: gossip) they saw on Facebook, I tend to not listen. For every “Holy Cow!” revelation, there are twenty mundane bits that one would not open a conversation with, yet some feel compelled to share with the world (ie: “Made a PB&J for lunch”). Whenever I hear that some famous (or infamous) person has a gazillion followers on Twitter, I think, “There are a gazillion people with too much time on their hands.” I would much rather wait a day after something happens and read a detailed account in a newspaper than hear the sound bites that tend to water down the facts and emphasize the sensationalized, headline grabbing parts of an event. In the Twitterverse, this last paragraph would no doubt be compressed into, “Must be a dinosaur, still reads newspapers! LOL!!”
When the topic of cyber bullying comes up at my job, some of my students are amazed when I tell them that I only use my cell phone when I am travelling but most of the time, it sits on my dresser at home gathering dust. I was recently asked, “What if someone said something bad about you, wouldn’t you want to know about it?” My reply was, “Why would I care? In my position it is a given that I will rub some people the wrong way (probably more than a few after four decades in the educational trenches). If someone has a problem with me, it can usually be resolved face to face (or at least phone call to phone call or e-mail to e-mail). If trashing me on social media by telling one side of the story is how they solve their problems, then I don’t really care what they say about me.” Sadder still, these things get passed on at lightning speed and various bits and pieces grow a life of their own. Like the old game of whispering something to one person and passing it down the line to see if the last person on line gets the original message, the stories become more distorted and mole hills turn into mountains. The problems remain unresolved and those with perhaps only a passing interest in the original topic get to embellish the stories with little regard to things like ‘facts’. Remember the old saying: “Many a good argument is ruined by some darn fool who knows the facts.” The same applies to a lot of things spread on social media.
Of course, when I was in Junior High in the mid-1960s, we had to spread rumours with (gasp) pen and paper! If one wanted to cut someone down, they started a ‘slam-book’. Someone would write a comment about a person at the top of a sheet of paper. The paper would be passed around class or study hall and accumulate more and more negative comments. Naturally, none these slam-books ever contained a signature from the author(s) and they always seemed to end up in the hands of the target name at the top. There were several young ladies in my eighth grade study hall who delighted in starting these campaigns and at the time, I thought, “This is so stupid” and refused to contribute. If one arrived with my name on it, I tore it up. If the teacher intercepted it, there were consequences! Yes, even fifty years ago, ganging up on someone in print was frowned upon and punishment followed discovery. What has changed since then? We can now do it the same thing with a larger audience contributing their anti-social media behavior at the speed of light. When the message was delivered on paper, it gave the recipient the impression that someone (the person who started the slam-book) didn’t like them. The sheer volume of posts made possible by social media today give the recipient the impression that everyone doesn’t like them. What has not changed is the response we all must make to such narrow minded, hurtful behavior: it will not be tolerated and at the least, one should not condone it by contributing to the melee.
In part 2 of Sound Advice, we will expand on the idea of cyberbullying and how the local authorities are handling the problem.
A CORRECTION: Wanting to fan the flames of marital accord, I must point out that I erroneously stated in a recent FTV (Celebrity Sightings Part 2 – 6-7-17) that my wife did not recognize Robert Plant at O’Hare Airport. My mistake – she DID recognize him and seeing a feature on him in Skyways Magazine confirmed that this was who she encountered. My apologies to my lovely wife and for the record, she does like his work with Alison Krauss.
Top Piece Video – “There is no better end of the year song than School’s Out – Thank you. Alice Cooper!” ker