Techno Bobby’s Take on “Public and Permanent”

In our office, I am known as “Techno Bobby.” This is neither a compliment nor a resounding endorsement of my technological skills and knowledge, but rather a lack thereof. For me to offer insight or wisdom about social media is comparable to me writing about knitting – I have little experience with one and none with the other. However, I did have three takeaways from our recent “Public and Permanent” assembly and parent program on social media presented by Richard Guerry from The Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication. What stood out to me after both presentations was how our children and students receive little preparation, information, or discussion on the power and possibilities of hand held technology.

My first takeaway was the comparison of handing a teenager the keys to a car without providing any form of driver training and the only experience being having watched someone else drive to handing that same teenager an iPhone or similar device with no discussion about capability and responsibility. As I was listening, memories came back of my learning to drive our 1958 four-speed bubble-top Volvo. I was grounded in the basics on the family Buick with an automatic transmission, but not in learning to drive a stick shift car. That experience came when my dad tossed me the keys to the Volvo; he told me to go get my friend, Fred McMahon (he had a Volkswagon so he knew how to use the clutch), and go practice. Thinking back to that Saturday many years ago, a smile came to my face as I recalled the policeman who pulled up behind us on a small hill and laughed as I dribbled the car across the intersection. My learning to shift gears by the trial and error method was not much different than what has happened to a whole group of teenagers who have been given a device that provides immediate access to vast amounts of information and connection to a whole world of people they know and do not know. My generation of adults has tossed them the keys to technology and said, “Go practice.”

The second was, where will young people get the technology version of a driver’s education program where they learn the “rules of the road,” get some practice before we let them “drive on their own,” and give them plans on what to do “in case of an emergency”? Parents can do part and the School can do part, but (I will paraphrase what our student and parents were told in both programs), “We cannot prepare everyone for everything that will be on the web, every app that will be downloaded, or each game that will be played. Technology is a tool. What we can provide are the knowledge and skills to make good choices in the material searched, apps downloaded and games played. The rest is up to the individual.”

My third takeaway was no matter what we want to believe, our digital footprint prevents us from being truly “anonymous” regardless of what we are told or want to believe. There are ways for those we care about and those we do not know to see the technological decisions or choices we make. That very topic was part of a National Public Radio story the morning after Mr. Guerry was on campus. In both messages, emphasis was placed on the reality that is will become increasingly difficult for people to be “anonymous” in a technology driven world.

To continue the driving and technology analogy, when our children get their license and go out into the world without us riding shotgun in the car with them, we remind them to drive carefully, make good choices, and keep out of sketchy situations. What would happen if each family created its own phrase to convey the same message about the expanding world of technology and the many different choices to be made? If my son and daughter were teenagers right now, Techno Bobby’s ongoing words might be, “Respect the tremendous power of the device you have, do not post anything you would not want your grandmother to see, and remember there is no anonymity – what you say or do is ‘Public and Permanent.'”

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