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Everyone’s a public figure

I gave the following speech at our school’s chapel on Tuesday in preparation for loosening the Internet filters a bit. I built it around a recent op-ed by Thomas Friedman entitled “The Whole World is Watching“.


It’s 1995, and I’m a skinnier, geekier version of myself. I’m holding a 3.5” floppy disk in my fingers, and I slide it into the drive.I’m in the Hopkins High School Library, in the office of our Computer and Network resource person. I don’t remember his name. What am I doing here?

I’m looking for oscar the grouch.

Back in 1995, we carried a floppy disk around to hold all of our papers. In English class when we would work on a paper, we’d all have our disks. We’d dutifully type away at our papers. And when the bell rang, we’d drag the disk down to the trash, pull it out and head off to our next class.

Oscar the grouch was a system extension that would change your system in one subtle way. Whenever you emptied the trash, Oscar would rise up out of the trash can and sing, “I love it because its trash!”

I had hatched a plan to install this extension on every one of the lab’s Macintoshes, so that at the end of class, the 24 computers would sing in unison.

But I needed the file, and this man had it. So I waited in the library until he had left, and I sat down at his computer, and quickly copied the file. As I ejected the disk there was a knock at the door.

“What are you doing on my computer? Nobody said you could use my computer. You should NEVER use someone’s computer without asking. What are you doing?”

I explained that I was trying to copy oscar the grouch.

After sticking the disk back in his computer to verify that was, indeed, all I had copied, he lectured me a bit more about using other people’s computers without asking, and then he asked if I had learned anything. I asked if I could have my disk back, I was late to class.

Well, even if I hadn’t learned anything that day, that story has stayed with me until today.

And now everyone has a computer in front of them in class here at school. There are even more lessons to learn with the computers than there were 10 years ago.

Some of these lessons are the same, never use someone else’s computer without permission. But some of the lessons are new, and different.

We didn’t have to worry about being distracted on the internet in my English class, well, because there was no internet on those computers.

I didn’t have to worry about the repercussions of posting some video on YouTube, or a cell phone pic on Facebook.

The level of responsibility required of you is much higher now than it was just 10 years ago because the level of temptation is higher. And it’s a good thing that you have this computer, and that you have to be responsible now. In the future, assuming society continues down this path that we are on, this responsibility is going to grow, and the stakes will be much higher.

Thomas Friedman wrote recently:

“When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or a Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paprazzo. When everyone can upload a video on YouTube, everyone is a filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paprazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now.”

This responsibility extends to your actions on the internet. As of today, we will begin loosening the restrictions on the internet filtering. The many educational websites that are blocked by the current filtering are the main impetus for this change, but I often draw the analogy of Magazines in the library. We have magazines in the library for which the websites are unavailable to you.

However, teachers don’t allow you to sit class and read Sports Illustrated, EGM, or People magazine during a lecture, and just because there is a screen up between you and the teacher, it doesn’t give you license to read those things online, either.

You are the ones that hold this responsibility in your hands, and you are the ones that must make the most of this change. We continue to expect that you follow the values of this institution, both in the physical world and on the internet. We continue to insist that you will respect the time that you have in class with your teachers, and with one another. And we continue to expect that what you create on the computers is the highest reflection of yourselves.

Last year we created Breck Technology Values to help guide actions on the computer. We’ll continue to talk about them, remind you about them, and do our best to practice them in our classes. You’ll see these posters going up shortly in your classes as a reminder. The values read:

Treat your laptop with care, Use your laptop for academic work, be honest and respectful in your communications, Be responsible for what you create.

The first two are straightforward. Treat with care. Use for academics. The second two are harder, and more important. Be responsible for what you create. Be honest and respectful in your communications. What you create and what you communicate on these computers is a reflection of you. How you go about creating and communicating is of the utmost importance.

In that same article by Thomas Friedman, he quotes Dov Seidman, the author of a new book, simply titled “How”. He says:

“For young people, this means understanding that your reputation in life is going to get set in stone so much earlier. More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased. Our generation got to screw up and none of those screw-ups appeared on our first job resumes, which we got to write. For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever. Before employers even read their resumes, they’ll google them.

“The persistence of memory in electronic form makes second chances harder to come by. In the information age, life has no chapters or closets; you can leave nothing behind, and you have nowhere to hide your skeletons. Your past is your present. The only way to get ahead in life will be by getting your “hows” right.

So, as this community continues to learn about how computers affect our lives, let’s start by looking at the how’s: How you treat the computer, how you conduct yourself in class, how you present yourself in an email or online.

We all need to get the How’s right if we are to succeed in this technological world.

Categories: EdTech.