Put the Cell Phone Down

In a lot of significant ways, college life was easier before social media.

I realize that I’m probably an anomaly, but I have exactly 72 photos from my first three years of college back in the 1990s. I used one 24-shot roll of film each year; a moment or event had to be particularly significant to be worthy of the click of my camera shutter. Later I had to find the time and money to get prints developed, and each now sits in a little plastic sleeve in an old-school photo album.

Today, many college students likely take 24 shots with their camera phones…before lunch. They may save all of the pictures or quickly trash them all. Some photos may be deemed “good enough” for sharing on social media sites.

Yet in an era of easy click-and-delete technology, we can forget that we may be capturing images of people who don’t want their faces immortalized on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or other web sites. I teach a class about professional uses of e-media, but I may need to spend more time on our responsibilities to others, too.

Let’s say that you’re walking across campus and encounter a crowd of students. Naturally, you stop to see what’s going on and realize that someone in the center is acting a fool in an epic way.

What should you do?

  • Think about how you would feel if you were in the center of this crowd. Would you want someone recording this moment? Forget about whether or not you would ever be in such a situation. How would YOU feel?
  • Unable to put your cell phone down? Why is that? Seriously. Ask yourself why you feel the need to record another human being’s meltdown.
  • If you can’t help yourself from taking photos in the first place, don’t promptly send them to all your friends or your 2,187 Twitter followers. You look unprofessional, and you’re certainly spreading damage to another person’s reputation far beyond the physical college campus.
  • Don’t upload the videos to Facebook or other sites, either, unless you genuinely like humiliating strangers in a public, permanent manner.

Too often, the scene looks more like this photo, with a sea of cell phones ready and shooting:

It is plain sad that a young person can engage in outrageous, potentially harmful behavior and the only thing that dozens of his/her classmates do is record the incident for posterity.

Unless you are calling a professor, administrator, RA, or campus police, put your cell phone away. No one forced this individual to do something crazy, but no one is making you take a photo or video, either. If you see any fellow student in crisis, your first thought should be how to get that person some help.

If you see a girl skinny-dipping in the fountain, give her your jacket, not your laughter.

If you see a guy fall flat on his face in the cafeteria, give him a hand up, not the flash of your camera.

The images on social media can be powerful. Record them wisely.

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