Facebook, Foibles, Mistakes, and Teachability

I once drew, upon the wall of a bathroom stall in a college library, a picture of a man performing an obscene act upon a donkey. The man in question shared a mutual animosity with me. He seemed to enjoy torturing me, and he was better at that game than I was, or ever will be. Worse yet, he was winning the battle for the heart of an old beau, who could not decide whether to be a stoner best friend to the man in question, or a diligent, studious, and devoted boyfriend to me. And lest anyone not decipher my crude portrait, I labelled it. Someone later told me that the amateurish drawing enjoyed a certain renown, there in the men's bathroom of CCL. That was one of my stupider moments, lived before I was even 20 years old. I've outgrown some of my stupidities. Most, perhaps, now that I'm in my midyears, and patience and temperance have crept up on me despite myself. But, alas, not all my stupidities have fallen away. I've lived this life more with passion and presence than with perfection. The best I can say is that I've enjoyed some good laughs: at myself. That old incident came to mind this weekend, when I discovered that a pal of my middle daughter's had stolen onto her Facebook page, assumed her identity, and left grotesquely vulgar, sexually explicit updates as her. Now, my daughter isn't a pristine child of constant and unceasing virtue, as most of us weren't. She's always been the feisty kind to give as well as she's gotten. But this commandeering of her voice felt like it was beyond the pale. It frightened me. Facebook, as my older daughter pointed out in her article for the Amherst Indicator, leaves us no privacy. For people who participate in social networking, life is lived on a constant stage. The kids get to stay connected, but they pay a price for this connection. That price is privacy. But must it also include inviolability? I'm no hacker but I understand from savvy people that it's not all that hard to get onto other people's sites. So this security of only "invited friends" seeing a profile is illusory. And nothing is ever truly deleted. Traces remain, for good or ill, of everything that has trafficked upon the world wide web. But I'm not really worried about my daughter's 1142 friends. Or am I? Does she really know that many people to send them her personal thoughts, to let them see casual pix of her whenever they choose? I'm 31 years older than her, and do I know that many people? Are there even 1142 people in the world interested in my personal thoughts and private pix? If so, please go to Amazon.com and purchase my novel IMMORTAL. But my daughter is a private citizen, and a kid. What concerned me about this incident is the unintended and harmful consequences. Say, the laptop left open on a kitchen table, so that a friend of a friend of the older brother's walked by, or the food delivery guy, or the cabinet repair guy, or the cable or phone or internet guy, or the lawyer who's the dad's best friend, who spied the obscene expressions ostensibly from my daughter's very self. And who then grew interested in her in an unwholesome way. For sure, the kid who pretended to be my daughter didn't think of these repercussions. That's the deal with kids, that's developmentally correct: they don't anticipate all the fallout, all the time. I got terrified, and then I got mad that the kid would endanger my daughter. Then I realized what a perfect opportunity it was. This kid and my daughter, and their peers, could inquire into the nature of the Internet, how it is a tool of awesome power, but, like energy from a split atom, could also become a weapon. These kids could start to discuss the notion that, just as one's personal physical space must be inviolable, so must one's personal virtual space. In fact, these opportunities for inquiry and discussion are crucial for these kids to grow into socially responsible, ethical adults. They've got the burden of an extra world, a complex virtual world, to negotiate, to steward. We only had one world to handle, and that was tough enough for us. But I think they can handle it. I like this computer-groovy generation. They're an interesting lot. Many of them seem ADHD, as if all the technology has hard-wired their brains differently. They've become so used to constant stimulation and rapid images and cell phone texts that they can't sit still and focus for hours at a time. They like to move about. But they're good kids, and they're smart. They can multitask. They can care about each other and learn from their mistakes. They can tolerate each other's imperfections and stay connected. Boy, do they stay connected! I have high hopes for them. Maybe it will be young adults texting each other around the Gaza Strip who finally bring peace to the world. They'll offer each other respect based not on whether they worship Adonai or Allah, but on how many friends they've got on Facebook, how many texts they field in any hour, and who knows where the fun spots are. It seems unlikely to me that the weighty issues will be resolved by any final philosophical adjudication. Fun and connectivity stand a better chance. In the meantime, kids will be kids. I'll occasionally blunder. Lucky for me, some enterprising janitor long ago washed away my pencilled expression of disrespect. Ironically, the graphite marks in the material world had a shorter shelf life than the 1's and O's from my daughter's mischievous pal will have in the virtual world. I can only hope that no unsavory sort comes across those salacious updates, which have been removed, but are never truly gone. Finally, for anyone interested, the man who graced the bathroom stall is now a respected doctor, with kids of his own. I hope they're torturing him, as only kids can torture their parents.