Monday, August 21, 2017

Dwight Harriman

Watching what we say in a technological age

Guest editorial
A hot mic recently caught Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Sen. Jack Reed talking disparagingly about how President Donald Trump’s administration was putting together the proposed 2018 budget.
 
Apparently referring to Trump, Reed says, “I think he’s crazy.”
 
Collins then says, “I’m worried.”
 
The two also made some not-so-kind comments about Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, with Reed saying Collins could thrash him and Collins remarking, “I don’t mean to be unkind but he’s so unattractive it’s unbelievable.”
 
Once again politicians have been caught saying what they really think. It’s a grand tradition going back decades, at least to Richard Nixon and probably beyond.
 
But politicians aren’t the only ones being recorded these days. It’s us, too.
 
With the advent of smartphones, which are present everywhere, anyone of us could be surreptitiously recorded on audio or video. A recording device may be running anywhere at any time – even unintentionally, as demonstrated by the infamous pocket dial. We’ve all had someone accidentally call us and heard their scratchy ramblings on the other end. But it can happen the other way. If, in a private moment, you have ever muttered, say, something disparaging about someone else to yourself, the possibility exists that your thoughts were pocket dialed out.
 
Between accidents and purposeful audio and video recordings, your most private thoughts can now be, and often are, fed to the world, including employers, spouses and friends. 
 
Could all this omnipresent technology one day be used against us and we become like Stalin’s Russia, where people lived in extreme fear an overheard political comment could get reported to the ruthless dictator? Back then, countless people were executed over something as simple as that.
 
No one is getting executed for their words in our country, but a certain amount of paranoia is merited these days when anything you say could get taped, anytime, anywhere.
 
But this cultural shift could lead to a good thing: keeping our mouths shut – not for political reasons, but because in our loud and sometimes coarse culture, we all talk too much anyway. Perhaps less babbling, less Facebooking, less Snapchatting, less Twittering, less Instagraming, less Facetiming wouldn’t hurt.
 
The whole problem, and the admonition to verbal discretion, is not a new one. Close to 3,000 years before recording devices were invented, a proverb – in an ironic foreshadowing of Twitter – was written in the book of Ecclesiastes:
 
“Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.”
 
Wise words.
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