“Yet,” Bauerlein asks, “which is worse: social media that inflates the intellectual and moral credentials of the user and makes them more careful; or social media that reinforces the adolescent user’s adolescence?”
In other words, there will be marginally fewer Facebook photos of keg stands and more of summer-vacation latrine-digging in Third World countries.
But there’s a larger point to be made here. We now live in a society in which there’s always someone watching. Text-messaging, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, etc., amount to the new permanent record. In the past, if you embarrassed yourself in some horrendous way, you could often reinvent yourself simply by moving to a new town and starting fresh. Now your permanent record is in the Cloud and your scarlet letter can be found with a Google search.
Indeed, the Internet is creating unprecedented opportunities for people of low character to advertise it. If Anthony Weiner had simply used the phone as a phone instead of a handheld peep-show booth, he’d probably be the next mayor of New York. If Jofi Joseph (the Obama-administration national-security aide who used his “NatSecWonk” Twitter handle to trash colleagues and superiors) had restricted his catty gossiping to water-cooler chatter, he’d probably still have a job. Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito couldn’t stay incognito because of the ubiquity of cellphone cameras and the permanence of text messages.