Watching what we say in a technological age

By DWIGHT HARRIMAN | Yellowstone Newspapers


A hot mic recently caught Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Sen. Jack Reed talking  disparagingly about how President Donald Trump’s administration was putting together the proposed 2018  budget.

Apparently referring to Trump, Reed says, “I think he’s crazy.”

Collins then says, “I’m worried.”

The two also made some not-so-kind comments about Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, with  Reed saying Collins could thrash him and Collins remarking, “I don’t mean to be unkind but he’s so unattractive  it’s unbelievable.”

Once again politicians have been caught saying what they really think. It’s a grand tradition going back  decades, at least to Richard Nixon and  probably beyond.

But politicians aren’t the only ones being recorded these days. It’s us, too.

With the advent of smartphones, which are present everywhere, anyone of us could be surreptitiously  recorded on audio or video. A recording device may be running anywhere at any time - even unintentionally, as  demonstrated by the infamous pocket dial. We’ve all had someone accidentally call us and heard their scratchy  ramblings on the other end. But it can happen the other way. If, in a private moment, you have ever muttered,  say, something disparaging about someone else to yourself, the possibility exists that your thoughts were  pocket dialed out.

Between accidents and purposeful audio and video recordings, your most private thoughts can now be,  and often are, fed to the world, including employers, spouses and friends. 

Could all this omnipresent technology one day be used against us and we become like Stalin’s Russia, where  people lived in extreme fear an overheard political comment could get reported to the ruthless dictator? Back  then, countless people were executed over something as simple as that.

No one is getting executed for their words in our country, but a certain amount of paranoia is merited these  days when anything you say could get taped, anytime, anywhere.

But this cultural shift could lead to a good thing: keeping our mouths shut - not for political reasons but  because in our loud and sometimes coarse culture we all talk too much anyway. Perhaps less babbling, less Facebooking, less Snapchatting, less Twittering, less Instagraming, less Facetiming wouldn’t hurt.

The whole problem, and the admonition to verbal discretion, is not a new one. Close to 3,000 years before recording devices were invented, a proverb  -in an ironic foreshadowing of Twitter - was written in the book of Ecclesiastes:

“Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky  may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.”

Wise words.


Dwight Harriman is news editor of The Livingston Enterprise.


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