A few weeks ago, I saw a young woman getting off a city bus, headphones in and engaged in a conversation on her mobile. Without looking, she proceeded to walk in front of the bus to cross the street. Normally, fine and dandy, except the bus had a green light. The bus driver was observant enough to see the woman and honk and stop in time, while many onlookers, myself included, yelled at her to look out. Impact averted, she looked at all of us as if we were crazy and asked what was wrong.
This made me think of the tunnel vision that technology both blesses and curses us with. While it’s great to dim the lights and turn off the TV to enjoy a Skype conversation, or to close our eyes and immerse ourselves in some classic Stevie Wonder, we have to remember to look up every once in awhile, both literally and figuratively, check out our surroundings, and make sure we know what the heck is going on.
I started with a story about the physical dangers of being connected—who hasn’t seen someone about to step into traffic while on the phone? How many warnings have we seen about texting and driving? Who isn’t annoyed by people stopping to check email in the middle of the sidewalk? These instances represent a lack of context and perspective by technology users that we see every day.
While it may or may not be harder to see and it’s usually not fatal, when we communicate online we still run the risk of acting without thinking of context—or consequences. In the online world, not only do we have tunnel vision regarding how our points of view fit into the big picture, we have the ability to share that point of view right now.And this can be a dangerous thing.
We all saw the misogyny and misinformation that cluttered the cybersphere right after the tragic bombings in Boston. “Suspects” were misidentified, “suspects” were caught, and groups of people were blamed and vilified—all information supplied by uninformed individuals with the easy ability to say something, anything. Or, perhaps you’ve heard about the tragic suicides of two teenagers who were not only the victims of sexual assault, but were then mercilessly hounded online by neighbors and classmates until they couldn’t take it any more. Or, ridiculous, off-the-cuff, Twitter attacks after an NBA player comes out as gay, only to be recanted later “as taken out of context.”
The point is we have all of these wonderful tools. Let’s use them wisely. Do I really need to look away from the road the instant my phone rings? Is checking my play list while crossing the street really the wisest thing? Does innocent until proven guilty not apply online? I’m asking for all of us to take a moment to Stop. Look Around. Think. It is just too easy to harm others and ourselves with the click of a button these days to not think before we act.
By Al Black