For all of the supposed liberating power of digital devices, (users) might as well be wearing ankle monitors. Technological connectedness has made it much harder for (college students) to make mistakes and learn from them.
Today’s students live their lives so publicly — through the technology we provide them without training — that much simpler errors than mine earn them the wrath of the entire internet.
I got driven downtown in handcuffs for spray-painting “Corporate Deathburgers” across a McDonald’s.
If a Williams student spray-painted “Corporate Deathburgers” on a local building today (not that they ever would), it wouldn’t be hard to imagine someone posting the security footage online. Then the outraged calls and emails and tweets would pour in, demanding that the college disavow Deathburger values. I’d be writing news releases explaining that at Williams we take Deathburgers very seriously. There would be op-eds about the Deathburger problem on American campuses today. And the video would live on: another student weighed down by the detritus of his or her online life.
Thirty years ago, college students could have tried out radical ideas (in the student newspaper). But readership would have been largely restricted to campus, and the paper would have been in circulation for only a day or two. In this climate, there is little room for students to experiment and screw up.
My worry is that we’ve become unwilling to tolerate innocent mistakes — either that or we have drastically shrunk our vision of innocence.
In my own life I made bad choices that went far beyond spray paint. I flunked out of college and at various points narrowly dodged jail time. When I think back to those mistakes, I’m horrified and chastened. I feel fortunate to have survived, to have had the privilege to make amends.
Jim Reische writing in the New York Times