The Dangers of Technology

When funerals are announced on Facebook, it’s time to reevaluate our social use of technology.


My Uncle Deard died last week of natural causes. I know because my mom texted me—texted, in fact, my entire family in a single, well-intentioned, poorly-executed, grossly inappropriate text message. Poorly executed because I don’t have an Uncle Deard. That was a typo. Inappropriate, because I have an Uncle Mike; an Uncle Mike who died last week of natural causes. I know because my mom then texted me an asterisk. Followed by the word “dead.” Followed by the words “your uncle Mike is dead.” The next day, my aunt sent me an Evite to his wake and my dad linked the announcement on my Facebook wall. It’s 2009. Pandora doesn’t have a box. She has an unlimited texting plan on her AT&T compatible iPhone—she lends it to my dad, and with it, he guilts me about my future with greater speed, mobility, and convenience than ever before. In equipping our parents with new social technology, we’ve awoken a sleeping giant, and we’ve only ourselves to blame.  Our techno magic simply made them too jealous. These mere Muggles of the Baby Boomer birth squad were kept in the dark too long; forced to admire our sorcery from an ignorant distance too long. When they tried to count their phone’s blueteeth, we laughed.When they got their ties hilariously caught in fax machines, we howled. But all this joking shamed them, and like little technological flagellators whipping themselves into submission, they finally shaped up, rewiring themselves both inside and out with the necessary technical equipment.  But as dated reference William Hung taught us, just because you have the equipment doesn’t mean you know how to use it. The simple truth is that Mom and Dad’s technological crash course only taught them competency, not ethics or customs. The few for-adult-by-adult efforts to explain the ethical nuances of social technology have come up short. In an article that made the blog rounds this summer, New York Times writer Alex Williams tried to write a “do’s and don’ts” guide for adults and social technology. But guides like these only focus on integrating technology into your life. They don’t explain why it is creepy to Facebook friend your son’s classmates, or why it is not okay to Gchat until the second date. But these nuances are important. Technology in untrained hands can be dangerous. You need a license to own an assault rifle, but you can launch Internet assaults without so much as a learner’s permit.  So here’s my attempt at one. An adult’s guide to social technology etiquette by a guy who tries harder each day to convince himself he’s not an adult. Texting The medium is for brevity. Passive aggressiveness is fine, but it must be achieved through emoticons and not 1,000 character-long treatises on the perks of a career in law. Oh, yeah, and no death texts.E-mail For the love of God, stop the forwarding. Just…just stop. No more dogs dressed like married couples.  No more poems that point out why “Guidance” is like “God—“u” and “i” dance. If you are unsure of the proper method to tech-connect, e-mail is a pretty safe bet. Facebook Chat Drunkenly hitting on girls you knew in high school. This is its exclusive use. Facebook Proper: Don’t talk to your son’s friends. Don’t comment on their wall posts. Don’t poke anyone—ever. Gchat If an e-mail is a kiss, a Gchat is a kiss where you keep your eyes open and are sober. It can be uncomfortable unless both parties are on board. Phone This hasn’t been replaced. It is still the go-to medium for interactions of any social importance. And best of all, you’re already an expert on it.