If you believe Richard Guerry, we are the cavemen of the Digital Renaissance. Like our ancestors who learned to harness fire, we are the generation that needs to establish the rules on how to handle social media, the most instantaneous and powerful communication tools on Earth.
Guerry is the founder of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication, or IROC2. In April he visited Central Oregon to give a talk titled, “Public and Permanent: The Golden Rule of the 21st Century,” an event sponsored by the Kids Center and BendBroadband.
He has an important message for parents and children alike: Don’t become a crime statistic by engaging in poor social media behavior. You can’t delete communications you send out into the social media stream. It’s all out there, public and permanent.
“We are the forefathers of the 21st century,” Guerry said. “[You and I] are at the dawn of the Digital Age. The next time you buy [a digital device] or download an app, you are not just witnessing history, you are buying it for future generations.”
“Your kids and grandkids are going to learn about the digital renaissance. Their da Vincis or Michelangelos are [going to be] Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. The one thing that they are going to learn is that we, the cavemen and women of technology, were seemingly dropped into a digital world overnight.”
According to Guerry, people do crazy things all the time, but there’s a huge difference between making a bad decision and making a decision with no information at all.
“Unfortunately, far too many good people are getting into trouble, not because they are making bad decisions, but [because] they are making blind decisions,” he said. “They were handed one of the most powerful tools on the planet with no guidance other than misinformation and myth – not knowledge.”
Corporations and the news media lead us to believe that we are anonymous if we use certain apps or products, Guerry said.
We can’t ask a tool to achieve instant communication and then ask the same tool to provide privacy, Guerry said.
“It can’t work both ways. The people who try to force the issue are the ones that become the data research and statistics for future generations to learn from what not to do.”
When we delete a text message, photo or blog post, it is not really deleted, Guerry said. No matter how much we want that egregious message or naughty picture to disappear for good, it’s out there for someone to find, public and permanent.
The bullying case between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin is the perfect example, Guerry said. After the two NFL players engaged in a big tiff in the Miami Dolphins locker room, officials called in a digital forensics team. During its investigation, the team pulled back a thousand deleted text messages going back to October 2012. Incognito, who had relentlessly bullied Martin for years, thought those messages were gone forever.
Guerry urged his listeners to keep that lesson in mind.
“If you can let anybody – a friend, a family member, a potential employer or a criminal – walk into your account and share anything on that site [without making] you nervous, then you know what you are doing,” he said. “The risk is so low that you will never have problems with social media.”