Just between you and me

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, recently a professor at Dartmouth College in the United States got into difficulty when what she thought was her largely private home page on the social networking site Facebook appeared in a student newspaper; which was unfortunate, because on that page she admitted taking materials for her lectures from Wikipedia and made some derogatory comments about colleagues. The faculty at the College took all this in their stride and not much happened, but it may be that such incidents will make academics cautious about venturing into the world of social networking.

In fact the online world more generally can be a hazardous place if you are given to frank comment. Back in the early 1990s when I first became a regular emailer, a friend of mine who had been doing this for much longer told me: ‘You should never put into an email to anyone what you don’t want your mother to read or what you don’t want to see quoted on the front page of the newspapers’. I understood the wisdom of that advice when the latter occurrence happened to me a few years ago; I inadvertently posted an email intended for four people to a much larger group, and the slightly awkward content (I had expressed my irritation at something) found its way into the Irish Times on what was probably a slow news day. Served me right.

Of course, very little of what we do on the internet is really private. Whatever we do, and however quietly we think we do it, we leave easily found traces of it all over the place. Far better, then, to think of the internet as very large room, where we can stroll around, and even spend confidential moments in a quiet corner; but we are still in view. Seen positively, we are part of a community that is both larger and at the same time more intimate than anything we can easily find in ‘real life’. We are able to experience both the risks and the personal rewards of this community membership.

When I write something by email or on a website, occasionally I stop to reflect that what I am writing could easily become public property, either through error or misjudgement, or in my case also through the Freedom of Information Act. But I don’t mind. I am not here to conspire or hide, I am here to experience the ebb and flow of this vast opportunity for interpersonal contact. I am here, I hope, to open my mind.

Explore posts in the same categories: culture, technology, university

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5 Comments on “Just between you and me”

  1. Póló Says:

    It is only prudent to assume that everything you email is in the public domain.

  2. wayne Says:

    I have forwarded this on to all in my address book.

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