In the last week, I think I’ve seen at least 20 new articles on “How To Use Twitter” or “The Pitfalls of Technology” in light of the latest Weinergate scandal. The Huffington Post suggests that politicians (and others) just cancel their accounts and today’s New York Times gives some obvious advice, such as not DMing anything we wouldn’t want public.
Here’s my take: it’s not about the technology. It’s about us.
In 1990, during the “You Have 80 Voicemail Messages” age, I sang a song into the voicemail of my husband, who was doing some freelance work at my company and who thus had a mailbox on our system. The details of the song and what I said are too embarrassing to reveal in public, but instead of sending it to him, I sent it to a distribution list of 40 people. To this day, I remember the experience. My company’s Toronto office responded first, by gathering all of the employees together and sending a group message, “We Love You Too, Diane!” I was so mortified. In the hours that followed, I got dozens of responses, including people who thought I was sincerely singing to them and who told me that I made them feel so appreciated.
My point is that this situation didn’t arise because I was a new voicemail user. I had sent out thousands of voicemails, had memorized the extensions of most of my colleagues, and I was generally a “power user”. I just wasn’t focusing.
I’m sure you all have your own stories. Email has made the problem worse, and most of us have experienced that awful feeling of hitting the “send” button and realizing that we copied someone who wasn’t supposed to read what we had written. I do this at least once a year, most recently when I copied a client on a private email to a Communispace VP who was meeting with him. I wrote about the client and what I thought of him and my advice for working with him—and then I sent it to the client! Ach! (The client thought it was especially funny, and he liked my riff about his having no tolerance for small talk.) Again, the problem is not that I don’t know how to use Microsoft Outlook—or my blackberry. I was sloppy.
In this age of constant interconnectedness, we sometimes blame the new tools for our own emotional outbursts, sloppiness, lack of focus, or inability to count to ten. As in many other situations, the tools are only as effective as the people who use them. In the case of Representative Weiner, let’s not blame social media on his behavior. Most people who are trying to live good lives will sometimes get caught saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, but the consequences will be short-lived and not that serious. I still think about voicemail from 1990 (it was to the tune of a song from “Cinderella”), but I’m sure I’ll get over it soon.
*Image by the excellent Matt Delbridge