Thursday, November 1, 2007

In The Internet Age, Play Nice

Most of us alive and able to read blogs remember a time when the internet was not so prevalent. That soon will not be the case, considering that I've had an email address now for over 13 years, but 13 years ago, you didn't see www plastered on every print ad and not everyone had a blog, web site, AIM address, etc. Mostly just us technogeeks back in the early days.

Having the internet around changes the way things operate, and I don't think that most of us have really gotten used to that fact yet. Specifically, that quite a large percentage of our conversations can be recorded and preserved for potentially all eternity, if the need arises.

15-20 years ago, that was not the case. You had photographs, of course. Those have been around since Lincoln was in office to one degree or another. There were videos and films... I'm sure that my grandparents still have old reel-to-reels of me hunting for Easter Eggs as a 3 year old. Then there were also tape recorders, which technically could be snuck into a room to record a conversation, but that wasn't routinely done. The answering machine came along and then you could leave messages that could be saved indefinitely.

Now, things are different. Not only do all the above ways of recording still exist, but they are more pervasive. Many people carry cell phones wherever they go, and a lot of those come equipped with cameras. Emails, texts, and instant messages can be easily saved, and are often the preferred means of communication. Internet bulletin boards exist where people discuss anything and everything.

Just because you say something, doesn't mean that it's over. Our words, preserved electronically, are out there for a very long time. There are Usenet posts of mine still floating around from my college days. What we say does not go away.

Not only that, but if you say something that you shouldn't, everybody and their mother can be notified before breakfast. Our recorded conversations can be forwarded to everyone we know, and even to those we don't, as long as we have a shared hobby and post to the same message board. If our forwarded message is outrageous enough, or deemed important enough, our friends might end up forwarding it, and their friends might forward it, until the message goes viral.

Which can get people into potential trouble.

The Yankee sales manager over at WCBS in New York is one of those people that forgot how powerful the internet can be, and that if you don't play nice, your words can come back to haunt you.

Last month, a fellow poster over on a sweepstakes web site won a $1000 watch. Supposedly, the prize was "stolen" and the radio station was going to scrounge around for some junk in it's place. Sweepstakes are governed by laws and are a form of advertising for companies... while substitution is authorized in almost every circumstance, a company always has to substitute with an item of equal or greater value, not a bunch of junk that is worth several hundred dollars less than the originally promised prize.

So in the quest to get the prize back, several phone calls were made, and the radio station couldn't get their story straight. More than one watch was stolen, but the radio station couldn't seem to figure out how many watches were stolen, because that number kept changing.

Then the sales manager left a veiled threat to this person (like he was going to sick some lawyers on her or something) on the winners answering machine. He also called her a nasty name in another phone conversation. Oops.

20 years ago, it might have been pretty easy for some fancy bigwig at some New York radio station to intimidate the little guy. Lots of people had answering machines, but they weren't very good. Certainly someone in this exact situation couldn't have notified hundreds of people about it. There would be no support system of people to give advice on what to do. You could complain to your friends about it, write a letter to his boss, call the consumer reports guy for a different station in the area, but more than likely, not much would happen.

Despite all the bad things surrounding the internet, the ability to get help and find justice is a good one. This person will more than likely get their watch. It is also likely that Mr. Not So Nice Guy's boss will find out about the situation, and while action may not be taken, probably said boss will be keeping an eye on him.

Because we live in an age where anything can be sent anywhere within minutes, it helps to play nice. It helps to follow the Bible's advice on not getting drunk as well, because those that do get drunk could find themselves the darling of YouTube the next day if they are not careful. Anything we do or say could get picked up with someone's cell phone, get talked about by our friends on the internet, etc. So it helps just to play nice to begin with. Because what we do today could follow us around longer than we can remember it ourselves.

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