A more open world?

A more open world? October 6, 2010


In 1998 when I was working as a reporter in Oregon I wrote a story about the rising trend toward younger, more violent criminal offenders. “We’ve been warned that we are going to be dealing with a whole generation of kids without a conscience,” said Maj. Larry Rowan, the county jailer. ” The basic stuff we were all born with, that makes you feel bad when you do wrong — they don’t have it.”

Those who worked at the jail found the behavior of these young offenders troubling: “It’s all about me,” said Deputy Kevin Cooper. “If they’re crying, it’s because they feel sorry for themselves not for their victims.”

I thought of that article after hearing about the suicide of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi. The Rutgers freshman jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, and gal pal Molly Wei, 18, reportedly secretly filmed Clementi engaging in a sexual encounter with another male.

Ravi then allegedly posted a link to his Twitter account in an attempt to provide a live feed from the hidden web-cam.  Twitter accounts can and often are linked directly to Facebook pages, granting access to a wider net of friends and gawkers near and far.

Shortly before his death, Clementi posted a message to his own Facebook account for all the world to see: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

Wei and Ravi are now facing charges of invasion of privacy.  There are some, and I count myself among them, who wish the two were facing manslaughter charges. Although the third-degree offenses that they are charged with have the potential of earning them up to 5 years in prison, the media campaign to exonerate the guilty is already underway.  The likelihood of Wei or Ravi ending up behind bars is akin to me being named the next Pope. It ain’t going to happen, nowhere, no way.

Wei and Ravi’s lawyers and their friends claim that this was no hate crime. Ravi, his friends say, is an open-minded fellow.  Wei’s lawyers say she is the one who has been wrongly treated. They claim the actions of these two were nothing more than a bad prank gone awry. Boredom turned to horrordom.

I’m not buying it. Wei and Ravi aren’t 13-year-old punks clawing for bad-ass bragging rights in the junior high lunch room. They are students at one of the nation’s most notable schools. A basic four-year education at Rutgers runs upward of $100,000 or more. It has been reported that Ravi had a near perfect SAT score.

Any kid capable of writing an essay that grants them entrance into Rutgers knows the difference between a prank and  invasion of privacy. And if they don’t? Well Rutgers might want to revisit their entrance requirements. Best to weed out the riff-raff rather than have to kick them out after they’ve wreaked havoc and brought the glare of national media to your campus.

But then, maybe Maj. Rowan had it right to begin with — maybe Wei and Ravi lack that basic stuff you and I were born with — the thing that makes you feel bad when you do wrong — a conscience.

Did you know there was a time when the Hopi Indians refused to have their pictures taken? They believed that a person who could capture their image could take their soul hostage as well. I am wondering now if the Hopi weren’t on to something. Maybe there is more truth than superstition to that. Certainly it could be argued that the reason Clementi felt he had to take his life is because Ravi and Wei had already taken his soul.

A sacred part of our humanity has been breached and our young are cannibalizing one another as a result.  Clementi isn’t the first victim of that breech and I don’t care how much huffing and puffing you or I do, he won’t be the last.

Contributing to this flagrant disregard for the sacredness of another person’s soul is Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck, as he is known, is the mastermind behind the social networking site — Facebook.  You can find a link to Facebook at the top of this post.

Yes. I’m a Facebook Slut.

The publicity-shy Zuck made headlines a couple of weeks ago when he donated $100 million — yes, $100 million — to the public schools in Newark, N. J. The place where Rutgers wanna-bees constantly fail to graduate high school. His camp denies it, but Zuck’s donation, grand as it was, is nothing more than a preemptive strike — an attempt to downplay the negative portrayal of Zuck in the new film biopic, The Social Network, a fictional account of Zuck based largely in truth, court documents, interviews, and such.

I saw the movie and it has cost me several hours of restless sleep ever since. I’m conflicted. There are many things that I enjoy about Facebook. It  grants me access to a wider audience, allows me to keep in touch with my friends across the nation on a more regular basis, and helps me feel like I’m part of a community of people who care.

On the other hand, it is intrusive and deceptive and growing even more so, as this Rutgers incident shows.  The lie is found in this false sense of intimacy it provides. Facebook was the community that Tyler Clementi turned to in those desperate last moments of his life.

He didn’t call a friend in the neediest hours of his short life.

He Facebooked them.

Zuckerberg has been forthright about what he considers to be the mission of Facebook: “to make the world more open.” What value, if any, such false openness or outright intrusion of privacy has for the citizens of the world has yet to be evaluated. But the value of all that openness for Zuck can be counted in dollars, billions of them, as advertisers circle round us Facebook users like turkey buzzards feasting on road kill.

Don’t be misled. Mark Zuckerberg defines himself as an atheist and, whether it is his youth or his arrogance or both, he attaches little, if any value to protecting the privacy, much less the soul, of another.

Discussing the program he developed in a widely-circulated instant message exchange he had while still a student at Harvard, Zuckerberg reveals his disdain for those who blindly trust him:

ZUCK: if you ever need info about anyone at harvard

ZUCK: just ask

ZUCK: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns

FRIEND: what!? how’d you manage that one?

ZUCK: people just submitted it

ZUCK: i don’t know why

ZUCK: they “trust me”

ZUCK: dumb fucks.

Money and an orange jumpsuit, it seems, are the only things that separate Zuck, Ravi and Wei from those young violent offenders I first wrote about back in 1998. It is going to take more than a good education and a Facebook status update to cure what ails us now.

Has this more open world rendered us vulnerable to a more disconnected humanity?


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