There is a profound scene in the movie The Social Network where Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (brilliantly played by Jesse Eisenberg) attempts to reconcile with ex-girlfriend Erica Albright (played by Rooney Mara). Having been scorned by Erica earlier in the film, Zuckerberg took revenge by engaging in a drunken binge of reckless blogging meant to humiliate her. In this scene, however, Erica appears to have the upper hand.
As Zuckerberg nervously requests he and Erica settle the blogging matter in private, she calmly insists in confronting him in the presence of friends seated at her table. During the confrontation, Erica repeats to his face all the words that were written about her, words originally composed hastily by Zuckerberg behind the safety and convenience of his computer keyboard.
At the close of this scene, one of the greatest lines in the movie is delivered: “the internet is not written in pencil Mark, it’s written in ink”
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the age of digital communication and social media.
I am passionate about communication and consider it to be one of my strongest assets in the workplace. While I have at times failed miserably at it, I still value doing it properly and effectively. The bottom line is this: words matter to me. If used responsibly, they can build up and inspire. If used recklessly, they can cause great damage. Let’s face it; we have all said things we wish we had not said. Unfortunately, electronic communication has allowed this to occur more frequently without consequences.
We can all agree that the internet has changed communication forever. E-mail and social media portals have made communication convenient, efficient, and widespread. Likewise, the internet has also made communication safe, distant, and anonymous. The more we play in the “digital sandbox”, the bigger our digital footprint becomes on the internet. That’s the price of admission for participating on-line.
What if someone developed and produced a huge “digital eraser” application (perhaps one already exists). Do you really believe you could successfully capture and eradicate every bit and byte of your on-line presence? Think again. Just like writing something in pen then attempting to erase it, there is a faint trace that remains on the paper.
Imagine receiving a scathing e-mail from someone you may never meet in person. How would you feel or respond? What if you were about to send a scathing e-mail yourself to someone? Would you first think about the content of the e-mail or just hit send? Imagine if you printed the e-mail instead of sending it then read aloud the content to yourself. Better yet, what if you met face to face with the intended recipient (if possible) and read the printed e-mail to their face? What would their reaction be as they slowly digested the words?
I think Erica Albright had it right. The internet is written in ink. Let’s all enjoy the “digital sandbox” together without slinging the mud. And if you got a flamer of an e-mail ready to go, hold your fire and hit that print button first my friend.