Part one of this column began when I was ruminating about things that get passed along to graduates by various commencement speakers. Somehow things kind of swerved into a discussion of how bullying each other has changed since I was in junior high those many eons ago. Being mean to each other with pencil and paper has segued into what we now call “cyberbullying” and one of the points I set out to make was my simplistic solution to the problem: “Don’t look at what is being said on anti-social media and it won’t bother you.” I suggested at the least, everyone should put away their electronic devices for 10% (2.4 hours) of each day and see what happens.
Note that I have never said, “using all electronic media is bad.” I am writing this on a Chromebook and it will be held in cloud storage until it gets emailed to the paper or transferred to the our web page at www.woas-fm.org. I was lucky enough to be finishing my Master’s degree at NMU in 1979-80 when the Geography Department had the first “work station” installed in our office at the same time that I was taking my first computer mapping course. My office partner Mike and I got to practice some rudimentary computer skills (even some mild hacking before it was even called hacking – another story for another day) so I never felt like I was over my head when technology started to invade my life. I use computers and many labor saving applications on the job on a daily basis and have done so with increasing frequency since 1990 when I bought my first home computer. Most of the “paper work” we do on the job these days can only be done electronically. What I have said, however, is anything that demands so much of our time and attention is making us miss a lot of good things in life. When that time and attention helps spread anti-social media type behavior, it has a negative impact on all of us, not just the intended victims of cyberbullying.
In the cult classic movie Roadhouse, Patrick Swayze’s head bouncer/cooler character Dalton instructs his padawan bouncers, “Be nice until I tell you it is time to not be nice.” Even the president played by Jack Nicholson in another cult classic movie Mars Attacks! pleads, “Can’t we all just get along?” right before he gets disintegrated. When we would become particularly annoyed about the behavior of some members of our student body, former OASD teacher Doug Filppula used to remind us, “Hey, they are kids and they are behaving the same way we did” which I have tried to apply to my dealings with adults in training (the age range of which is much larger than the much too narrow category we call “teenagers”). Yes, we do all need to be nicer to each other! Unfortunately, the level of anti-social media that we are bombarded with 24/7/365 numbs our sense of right and wrong. This in turn is leading us down a path where we can lash out at 3 A.M. with terse sound bites and post them before the common sense part of our brain says, “Wait! What will the consequences of this be?” Advice columnists often tell angry readers to write a nasty letter to someone who has offended them, and then throw it away. In the digital age, this is hard to do once one punches “send” and it is just about impossible to delete it once it hits cyberspace.
Our students were recently reminded that there are laws that govern what is appropriate to send into cyberspace. A recent rash of inappropriate texting at several Upper Peninsula school districts prompted local prosecutors to dispatch law enforcement officers to the schools in lieu of the mass prosecution of individuals at these affected schools. County community service officer Bill Witt emphasized the things that constitute criminal use of social media. One of the sure consequences is the destruction of any device used for anti-social media. He also wanted the assembled students to be aware that this was their one and only warning: from this point on, any anti-social media behavior will not be ignored and “gee, I didn’t know that I couldn’t do that” will not be an acceptable excuse.
In the event this bit of tough love doesn’t reach everyone, someone will send the wrong message and be nailed to the wall (legally speaking). A general cry of alarm will go off in the Twitterverse with an undertone of “free speech is being violated”. Anti-social media behavior isn’t “free speech” it is “hate speech” and it won’t be tolerated or condoned. Still, kids (and some politicians these days) will continue to be mean to each other. If they can’t text negative things about each other, they may go back to writing it and they certainly will continue to say it (either behind the victim’s back or (if they have no social filter) to their face). In cases like this, I pass along the same sound advice my father gave me in my formative years when I let these kinds of things bother me: “Ignorant people say ignorant things and the best way to not give them what they want is to ignore them”. Ignore the ignorant? Great advice. I have already told you how I do this in our digital age. If you don’t believe it works, try it for 2.4 of your waking hours and see if makes you a happier, more productive human being! I know it works for me.
As for the original seed that started both branches of this article, 2017 OASD graduation speaker Ben Mayer echoed many of my thoughts in his address so I figured I could circle back to the original intent this column’s Part One (words of wisdom from this year’s crop of graduation speakers) and quote some of his comments. Mayer mentioned that he probably says ‘hi’ to nearly a hundred kids a day and “Every person whose day I might make a little bit better comes directly from that small interaction I had that day”. The interaction he is speaking about was having a popular upper class athlete stop and ask him how football was going for him on the JV team. A simple conversation like this has the power to transform a person’s day and every transformative day leads to a better future. Concerning the trend of using Google more than their noodle to figure things out, Mayer stated, “The internet should give you access to information that you can use to enhance intelligence; don’t let the internet replace your intelligence.” Referencing how things have changed in Ontonagon since he graduated, he emphasized that “Change is OK. Some people would look at the change as bad but a lot of things are really great around here. I can honestly say I’ve never felt like I was making a bigger difference. Our community, despite its hardships, is a great place to work and be very day. Change is inevitable. If you want something to be unhappy about, you will find it.” He closed his speech by telling the students,”You have the power to make yourself happy. Your life will be great if you want it to be.”
Congratulations to both the graduates of 2017 and to the graduation speakers whose messages will (hopefully) resonate with them for the next forty years. One thing I can state with certainty: in this digital age, these messages may still be floating around cyberspace forty years from now. At the speed of light, this means any of these messages, if broadcast, will be arriving at the newly discovered Trappist-1 group of planets forty years from now. These planets exist in the “Goldilocks Zone” (meaning they could have similar conditions to planet Earth (just right!) and therefore could potentially allow for Earth-like life forms to exist there) in the Aquarius system just about 235 trillion miles from our own. All seven planets are thought to be terrestrial planets like ours and if any intelligent life forms exist there, I wonder what they will make of these pearls of wisdom conferred on the graduates of 2017? I hope at least they listen to the “Nothing good can come from Tweeting at 3 a.m.” part of Helen Mirren’s speech.
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