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Monday, May 10, 2010

Fingers poised? Look before you leap - I mean click

I wonder, have you heard about the columnist at a major metropolitan newspaper in Australia who was ‘let go’ because she sent some ‘controversial’ messages via Twitter while at a TV awards night recently? No? Well I’m not surprised: it’s hardly Earth shattering, and it isn’t really important on any number of levels if you ask me.


What I want to talk about here is a follow up opinion piece I read a few days later. In it the commentator, while putting the responsibility squarely on the offending Twitterer, writes, ‘... the availability and immediacy of the technology intrude upon the normal choices and judgements which people make.’ He adds: services like Twitter, Facebook, emails and the rest, ‘bring into the public realm many things that would previously remain private.’

Of course, he’s right there isn’t he? You read all sorts of stuff out there in cyberland and it ‘ain’t all pretty, as the saying goes. This guy goes on to say that we are at ‘an evolutionary disjunct between old notions of the public and private spheres and the means of communications now widely available.’

Therefore it seems to follow that it’s not your fault if you blurt out something that you might later regret or that is offensive or libellous or otherwise insensitive. Or is it? Well, of course it is. You, like me and everyone else, are responsible for what we say and do whether it’s online or in person or on a postcard!

Anyway, the writer of this opinion piece then tells a story about US president Franklin Roosevelt. As we all know Roosevelt had polio and used a wheelchair. However, for public speeches he stood with ‘discreet assistance’. Apparently, one day he actually fell over and lay sprawled and helpless in front of the assembled Washington press corp. Of the dozens of photographers there guess how many took a photo? Go on guess.

Not one. That’s right: no photographer thought it was relevant; they all—each and every one of those hungry ‘vultures’—judged that it was a personal matter and therefore not to be reported. You can bet that if a world leader fell in front of the cameras today it would be in your inbox, on YouTube and plastered all over the Internet before he or she was back on his or her feet.

I was out with my camera a day or so ago, down the river and aiming my long lens at a magpie. I got a couple of frames off, then just as I was about to press the shutter for another one, the bird was gone. So, I didn’t press the button. It was then that it struck me: those Washington photographers made the same choice: there was no photograph, so no need to press the shutter.

You know something? I have always thought that if there was one tool that shouted ‘availability and immediacy’ it’s the camera. This isn’t a new idea: it’s about the decisive moment and all that. Photography 101 you might say.

So how come it’s so different with the buttons on your mouse or your mobile? Especially as you have to type a message into the keypad before you get to send it. If you ask me that’s a lot less immediate than the camera shutter. What I’m getting at here in my usual long-winded fashion is this: if those photographers could make the decision in the heat of the moment to not press the button, why do we need to make excuses for us ‘modern types’ with our keyboards and mobile keypads and whatever?

Of course, the answer is we don’t. As I said, we are all responsible for what we say and do. I suppose a good motto to follow in our online or other communications—and in life generally— would be ‘Do No Harm’. Or at least, do as little harm as possible.

Now, I am not saying here that I’ve never said anything on Twitter, or on Facebook or any other place, that was hurtful or insensitive or judgemental or in other ways just not good to say. Mind you, I think that on the whole I pretty much stick to my little motto, Do No Harm (it’s not mine of course, I just adopted it).

And for those times when I have failed, I apologise very sincerely. I do not make excuses; I can choose to press send or click OK or whatever after I’ve typed a message (note my italics please), just as I can choose to press my camera’s shutter button.

Let’s not have any more of this ‘evolutionary disjunct’ stuff. Though, when you think about it, we actually are at a lot of those type of places right now, don’t you think? It’s just that I would rather not use this particular disjunct (I love this word) as an excuse to be sloppy when it comes to how I communicate with friends and strangers alike in cyberspace, or in terrestrial space, or even in my head!

2 comments:

  1. This was a very interesting post. I agree with what you were saying. I don't know of the issue you referred to but I do know that there are few today who would have given President FDR the thought and consideration that was given him on that day he fell over. So many in this day and age would have thought only of the coverage and possible monetary value that a story like that could bring them. Now it is very easy to click "send" before you've thought it through...just like I'm about to do :)

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  2. Hello Janice Yes imagine how much a picture like that would be "worth" in the tabloids? And we've all clicked send a little too quickly, but as I wrote, I think overall I'm pretty good. And your comments are always thoughtful and insightful showing that you take your time also.

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Thanks for your comments. Know I will respond, even if it takes a while.