At first glance, they seem only marginally related. One is a gross invasion of privacy and a reprehensible hate crime, and the other a colossal lapse in judgment that exposed more than a dozen innocent men to public ridicule. In the former, I refer to the infuriating decision of Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei to stream video of Ravis roommate, Tyler Clementi, kissing another man in Ravi and Clemntis dorm room. Clementi committed suicide soon after. In the latter, I refer to recent Duke University graduate, Karen Owen's F*** List, a "scientific study" of her sexual encounters with other Duke University students, complete with charts, graphs, and pictures of her subjects. Perhaps I may be putting too much of a gloss on my undergraduate career, but I remember being much too busy to find time to deliberately humiliate my classmates.
Not too long after these stories broke, the Chicago Tribune launched a front-page story about local Illinois schools adding social and emotional skills-building to their elementary and high school curriculums. At first, I rolled my eyes. The story seemed as ridiculous as that one about marketing carrots as junk food so kids would be more inclined to eat them. The first thing I thought was, "First they're fooled by packaging, now they cant tell a smiling face from a smiley face." Then I briefly considered being one of those parents who lets their children play in traffic and eat dirt and ride on handlebars and dress up as 12th Century troubadours just to show others theres no harm in letting kids explore their horizons. My intent to frighten my future neighbors with my future children's plans to build a rocket ship building business in the backyard and christen it in an official ceremony featuring poems by Kafka, Giovanni, and Sandburg notwithstanding, I realize that while official skills building lessons may seem silly to those of us who learned most of our interpersonal skills during Red Rover, Tag, gym class, and the 4-H, among other social interactions, our kids today, so adept at electronic communication, are somehow lacking in all that empathy training you and I got when computers were a just-for-fun thing, not a life-and-death thing.
The Duke and Rutgers cases are indicative of a blatant disregard for others as well as a gross misunderstanding of how the internet should work. An expert interviewed on the Today show about the Duke incident said forwarding an email is like shooting a bullet from a gun. You cant stop the bullet once its left the barrel. I like to think of it more as once the bullet has left the barrel, every person is in danger. The Duke and Rutgers cases have proven the danger adults because thats what Ravi, Wei and Owen are with a high intelligence quotient and a sub-level emotional quotient pose to our emotional and societal well-being.
Let's be honest, people have been gossiping about, ranking and embarrassing their sexual partners and/or roommates for eons. But somehow the informality of the internet, the disembodied nature of our online relationships, and the ease with which we can spread gossip has made it a medium that isn't taken as seriously as it should be. We are so well into the Information Age that it's no longer novel. The adults I reference here chose to humiliate their peers publicly and are old enough to know better; their familiarity with technology and skill at implementing it means they're missing a sensitivity chip that no amount of tech savvy can teach. Maybe those teachers in Illinois are onto something, after all.