[Editor’s Note: This piece is a response to my entry on “The Dangers of Exposing Yourself. ]
By Rob Mitchell
No longer are the teenagers of today completely walled off in the same old same old lifestyles of even your youth (let alone mine). The possibilities of connecting with people who share your unusual or outre habits exist! And, with the ease of social networking destinations like myspace, the teenagers who game until dawn with headsets and mikes on, chattering away, its hard to imagine not finding people like you, wherever they are. Fetishists, freaks, weirdos, or just the misunderstood are able (increasingly) to find friendly voices, at least somewhere. This doesn’t explain away people like the Canadian junior college shooter, or Harris and Klebold, but if you can bear with me, I can explain even that.
All of these people, at the ultimate extreme of loneliness and misery, tend to find themselves going out in an alienated blaze of glory, taking as many people with them as possible — if the internet is bringing people together, then why? Well, the Canadian did (it seems I read) leave big clues on his myspace account. Harris and Klebold were a little too early for this level of networking. And just as important — mental health issues don’t vanish with an increase in possible community sentiment, and the most understanding you can find online can still not be enough to counteract a real life made up of nothing but (perceived, at least) oppression and isolation.
Online communities work better for people the more of themselves they invest in it, the more they care about being good citizens of their group, the more they share with others. In the same way that complexity arising from social networking can lead to interesting and positive outcomes the more people are involved (quantity), the more each individual invests him or herself into the community, the stronger and more valuable it is as a resource (for information, support, etc.).
So, when a 15-year old kid goes into extraordinary detail about the drug and sex fueled weekend they had recently, to that individual it is a lot of things to that individual — adolescent bragging, acting out, looking to be transgressive, testing and pushing boundaries. However, to each person reading it, it also serves a different (and to a certain extent, unique per user) experience. It is a statement that I might not be the only person acting out like this.
That this is a possible action, that these are the possible outcomes — it might be a cautionary tale, an amusing legend, whatever. And, its also (kind of) a statement of trust in the reader — whether misplaced or not. In the movie “House of Games” (David Mamet), a hustler played by Joe Mantegna explains that what a confident man really seems to do is to give his confidence to the person he’s about to scam, and if you think about it, there is truth in that statement. By opening yourself up to someone, you are telling them “I trust you with this knowledge”, and that all by itself can be a touching gesture.
Will some employers in the future use this knowledge poorly, prejudging potential job applicants, grant recipients, etc.? Doubtless they will. But then there’s a corollary to this, which is if the person with whom you are dealing is judging you based on a part of your life that they so virulently disagree with, then perhaps you shouldn’t be associating with this person anyway. If someone is barring you because of these youthful peccadilloes (or even current behavior), then are they going to just be making your life a misery anytime you deal with them? Really it comes down to another kind of trust in others, specifically, trust that what you do in outside arenas that have nothing to do with what you are doing at this time is really your business, so long as it truly doesn’t impact what you are doing.
If your private life is dressing up like cookie monster, taking a dozen bizarre designer drugs, dancing for 30 hours straight on a weekend, etc., and yet you are able to roll in on a Monday morning, on time and firing on all cylinders as a certified public accountant in a grey flannel suit, then bully for you!
Rob Mitchell is a friend, a programmer and one of those people who knows everything about everything.