Thursday, September 5, 2013

208. What do you look like on tape?

In the 1998 Seinfeld finale, all of the bad deeds of the cast were put on display in court by a string of character witnesses. Although not one of my favorite episodes, what I recall from the episode is how bad I might look (or anyone) if our worst moments were rolled out as evidence as to what type of person we are.

It used to be, confronted with such testimony, that we could just deny it, lie about it—or claim that it was taken out of context. Make up an excuse, propose a reason. And that still happens today—athletes claim they never took steroids, only to admit later that they did, for example.

But we have entered a new era—an era of cell phones and surveillance cameras. The right of privacy does not exist in public, and at any given time there is a surveillance camera recording our activities – our comings and goings—as well as many cell phone cameras as there are people. Do anything unusual or curious—or even amazing—and you can bet that someone will be ready to make record of it.

In this relatively new era of technology, our lives are more vulnerable to the recordings of our worst moments. No more need for those character witnesses—just roll the film. People, and their lawyers, may still try to spin the situation, but, as they say, a picture is worth a 1,000 words.

The list of examples is growing each day, but probably the most famous is the 47 percent remark by presidential candidate Mitt Romney that was secretly recorded at a political fundraiser. The history of this country might have changed on that recording—as many regarded it as the classic premise “what we do when we think nobody is watching.”

Other examples include former Ohio State president Gordon Gee, whose comments about Catholic priests inspired his retirement. We also recall the Steubenville community that was devastated and appalled when party photos were shared on social media. Recently, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Meizel was recorded allegedly receiving payment for signing autographs and Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was recorded using a derogatory racial term at a concert.

While each has its own circumstances and consequences, each was recorded without their knowledge. These individuals each had one of their worst moments, life changing moments, captured on tape—to be shared, in a blink of an eye, with the world.

And while I certainly believe that the consequences should follow the actions, we all have our moments. In fact, You Tube is filled with embarrassing moments captured on video and shared with the world—just like the Seinfeld episode.

The positive side of cameras and surveillance is that people might be inspired to behave better. Not only can crimes be caught on film, but also the driver with road rage, or the baseball dad who berates an umpire. It’s a greater risk to commit a crime or lose your cool in public—it could be on Facebook in minutes.

It can also be used to positively settle an issue—proving more reliable than witnesses, such as when Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde was relived of charges after a night club video caught the altercation that landed him in trouble.

The issue takes on several social perspectives. Aside from the legal aspect, which is a positive aspect of the video technology, there is the social aspect. Should our free expressions between friends be secretly recorded? And do these recordings represent our true personalities?

We all say things we regret or don’t really mean. And conversely, the good is not often recorded—who records someone writing a check to a charity, saving an injured bird or recycling an aluminum can? The public loves extremes—the shocking, our worst moments.

Did Mitt Romney really mean what he said about the 47 percent, or was he just trying to tell supporters what they wanted to hear. Does Gordon Gee really have a problem with Catholic priests, or was he just making a joke in the company of colleagues? Is Cooper really a racist, or simply ignorant and insensitive while intoxicated?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions—though like most people, I have my opinions. I think actions speak louder than words—and that people deserve, except when breaking the law, to be judged on a fair sample size of their lives, not just a pressing moment caught on tape.

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