Sometimes man is too smart for his own good. That's when the things he invents lead to abuse and results that are unbearable and utterly avoidable and often seem to outweigh the benefits of his genius.
Take the Internet, for instance, and the technology that permits the uncontrolled ability to devastate one's fellow man or woman by invading their privacy and embarrassing them before the entire world. If you believe I am referring to the recent tragic events that led to the suicide of a Rutgers University student, you are correct.
As most everyone knows, two of his fellow students clandestinely recorded his private encounter with another man and streamed it online. So completely devastated was he that he jumped from New York's George Washington Bridge. This horrible prank now has ruined the lives of not only the boy's family but also the two students who triggered the incident. Even if they are acquitted of the invasion of privacy charges filed against them, which seems unlikely, they will suffer their whole lives knowing they caused a death.
But that was just the latest in a series of these unfortunate incidents brought on by those who find it entertaining to bully or expose with ease in the new age of electronic communication. Putting these gadgets in the hands of some is like providing a loaded revolver to a six-year-old and telling him to go play with his friends. Pranks and bullying once thought of as part of growing up have taken on an extreme dimension. In reality they weren't funny then and they are horrific now.
A beautiful young lady hangs herself after a mother posing as a teen-age boy on the Internet ridicules her. Another does the same when she is bullied by fellow students. In the latter case, the moronic students who drove her to this are facing years in prison for their maliciousness --a tragedy in itself.
These are extreme cases, but there are plenty more that while they do not lead to such dire consequences result in life shattering events. Youngsters in the throes of puppy love photograph themselves nude or in compromising situations and send it to their boy or girlfriend only to find it circulated among many others.
It is all part of an era in which cable television stars and others garner fame and fortune after making a sex tape that is sold on the Internet by pornographers, many of who also run businesses hacking into the sexual escapades of young adults who have foolishly put them online. Where is all this going, one must ask? The resounding answer, of course, is who knows? As long as post-pubescent geniuses with the judgment and sensitivity of field mice can make billions of dollars before they are 25 devising new ways for once isolated idiots, sadists and malicious bullies to spread their venom, the end may never be in sight.
There seems absolutely no way to contain the evil intentions on this communications highway. The Internet is so vast the government and the courts can deal with only the most egregious abuses. Certainly there are great benefits from the information explosion, but there are also great dangers. Obviously, the enormous cultural shift that has taken place in the last decades would suggest far more acceptance of actions and behavior my mother and father would correctly consider appalling.
Exhibitionism seems far more rampant because the ability to practice it has never been so great. The fact that turning oneself into an art gallery has become an epidemic should tell us something. Only a relatively few years ago, tattooing was pretty much limited to servicemen, who often tried to eradicate their art once they returned home. Now there are tattoo parlors everywhere and young men and women seem determined to emulate the antics of Angelina Jolie, apparently the Hollywood queen of body art. Back in the day, youngsters pretty much quit drawing on themselves when they left kindergarten.
But that example of the new world pales in comparison to the death of a brilliant young man victimized by technology unrestrained by judgment or acceptable morals.
E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at firstname.lastname@example.org.