You probably interact with technology throughout the day. From turning on the flat screen (and DVR) to get the weather report in the morning to checking the gas prices on a smartphone or calling ahead to make a lunch reservation. Tech tools offer us unprecedented access to information -- and each other. As tools, they're only as good or bad as the people who wield them, but that can be a big catchall.
There's a lot of talk these days about cyberbullying (sending threatening e-mails or texts), sexting among minors (sending sexually explicit photos or texts) and loss of privacy on the Internet. Things have become so disturbing that many schools have instituted a list of rules for courteous conduct when using electronic media. Some of them are common sense, like not using foul language, but the fact that these lists are now being taught in school gives us a hint that responsible conduct when using technology isn't always intuitive. How would you fare if you were being completely honest about your tech use and occasional abuse:
- Have you stolen cable? Have you ever hijacked a cable signal for your personal use? Sure, since things have gone digital it's a lot harder to do, but if it was still a matter of splicing a few wires, would you do it? It's still stealing, and even though it isn't as dramatic as taking cash out of someone's wallet, it can send a powerful message about honesty.
- Do you download illegal content? In 2009, the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) published a report claiming that 95 percent of the music downloads made in 2008 were illegal. If you bemoan the high cost of concerts and feel music should be free for the asking -- especially to you -- look around. Your kids are listening. When you don't pay your share, whether you think it's fair or not, you teach your kids that obeying the rules is just a suggestion.
- Do you talk on your cell while driving? Using a handheld cell phone while driving is illegal in nine states as well as the District of Columbia. In addition to that, 35 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving. Driving distracted, whether you're using a cell phone or plugging in your fuzz buster, is dangerous. It may not cause an accident today or even tomorrow, but one day, your luck will run out. Don't teach your kids that it's OK to take risks in a vehicle. You'll regret it, and so will they.
- Are you a messaging meanie? Do you send curt or nasty voice messages, texts or e-mails? Remember the infamous audio message Alec Baldwin sent to his daughter in which he called her a "rude, thoughtless little pig." After the message went viral on the Internet, he claimed domestic issues pushed him to the "breaking point," but that tape will probably haunt him the rest of his days. Texting or recording messages in the heat of the moment is a lousy idea. Wait an hour. Remember, nothing ever dies in cyberspace, and if your child follows your example and writes something libelous or threatening about a teacher, neighbor or classmate, it could end up being a nightmare for all involved.