It’s a question we’re often asked when we decide to get a tattoo: “Will that still look good 30 years from now?” As if any part of me looks good now. My body is not a temple.

Still, the question does hold merit – not in the realm of tattoos, what people want to do with their body is their business, not yours, but when it comes to responsibility and ethics online, a lot of people have made the analogy “what you do online is as permanent as a tattoo.”

And it’s true.

London Permaculture Photo CC-by London Permaculture, relevant!

Digital Citizenship

The Internet is an entirely different world in and of itself than common society. Granted, is has microcasms of society: niche groups, hobbyists gathered together, fans of music / movies / etc, cliques, etc. However, the Internet offers something that none of these other groups offer without the aid of a mask: anonymity.

Digital Citizenship is a sophisticated way of describing how you behave on the Internet, and is often multi-faceted, including your security (passwords, not exposing identity-related information), ethical behavior (being a normal person as opposed to being an asshole troll), and responsibility. Everything you put your legal name on, attach to your e-mail address, and upload to an image-hosting website is there for good. You can delete these things, but often webpages have cached, older versions of themselves that can still be recalled. The Internet Wayback Machine lets you look through the older versions of countless websites.  Deletion is equivalent to getting a tattoo removed by putting another tattoo on top of it. Underneath, the original is still there.

I found this out the hard way. Try Googling your name – some things might turn up, newspaper articles, forums, webpages, etc. My Amazon author page and my portfolio for CSC’s newspaper, The Eagle, turned up. Same thing with image searching yourself. If you want a bit more interesting of an exercise.. try Googling your e-mail address. This yielded some.. interesting results. Including, but not limited to, a Dragonball Z fansite I made when I was between the ages of around 10 to 12. Tristen still has not stopped laughing about how, in her words, “adorable” that is. My ears and their burning beg to differ.

Tom's pipe fetish. Photo CC-by Jeff Commons, and what turned up when I searched for “embarrassment”

Anonymity /=/ Ethical Behavior

The reason so many people forego responsibility, compassion, ethical behavior, any of it on the Internet is because the Internet allows us what we believe to be free reign. Usernames aren’t our real names. Our avatar photos aren’t us. So it isn’t us, right? Wrong. Police and those of us who are tech-savvy can easily still discover a true identity. Insert flaw #1 with the anonymity theory.

Without repercussions or consequences, people see it fit to let their freak flag fly, and reveal an uglier side of them that day-to-day life doesn’t give them a chance to vent. Perfectly normal seeming people turn into monsters online: people encourage others to commit suicide, make horrendous, tasteless jokes, and send threatening e-mails every day, and with the exception of Cyberbullying laws beginning to be legislated, get away with it. As I have found out the hard way: jokes / sarcasm don’t translate well over text alone. No tonal inflections means things can be taken at face value, sometimes with poor consequences. During arguments online, gloves come off: everything is fair game, and they often become pissing contests over who can say the nastier thing. For every good facet of the Internet, there are infinitely as many evil ones.

How in the world do we combat this?

open Photo CC-by

Live Online as You Do Off

Education is key. Children in school today have untold access to technology, and therefore, the Internet. Parents and teachers cannot possibly monitor it all, and even if they could, that would help little. It’s been proven that anti-Drug programs hammering it into kids to “just say no” don’t work. Schools where abstinence is the only method of sex-ed are proven to have higher teen pregnancy rates. Rather than treating kids like idiots, how about we do something novel and teach them early on how to use technology responsibly, and properly?

Schools (claim) to take zero-tolerance policies against bullying, but often look the other way (especially if perpetrators are children of administration or high-profile athletes). This has got to stop. If it’s doable, children need to be showed the permanency of their online actions early on, and be taught that the Golden Rule doesn’t stop applying just because someone’s sitting behind a keyboard. In a blog post by Craig Badura, he comes up with an extremely effective set of ways to analogize real-world actions to online behavior. Anything posted is like toothpaste out of a tube: it isn’t going back in. Passwords are toothbrushes: why in the hell would you ever share one? It seems simplistic or even silly, but something like this could be the difference between a student sticking up for someone being cyberbullied or laughing along and clicking the “Like” button. Bullies grow up to be bullies. Anything that can be done to break the cycle, should.

Scientia potentia est

  1. tristyfishy says:

    First of all, your body looks great, especially with the tattoos, so I don’t want any of that hubbub. Second of all, it IS adorable. Shame you removed it. Fun ruiner. Anyway, you do pose several points. Luckily, I found all of this out through leadership conferences through Key Club, as my school did no such thing. Rather, they did exactly what you said they shouldn’t do: they blocked all social media sites and did teach only abstinence. This isn’t the way to do things. Teach them how to use it while their minds are still malleable. This way, the good practices are engrained in the children as opposed to them finding out the hard way like so many politicians and celebrities have.

    • jamcfarland says:

      Your opinion on my body is biased and therefore invalid for the sake of this conversation!

      That being said, my middle / high school careers consisted mostly of negative feedback. “Don’t do this!” was the rule, which only guarantees that in my life of growing independence and curiosities, I am going to, in fact, do this.

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