Among my mother’s oft-cited dicta was this pearl: Never put anything in writing you wouldn’t want me to see.
Think OPS Superintendent Nancy Sebring wasn’t thinking – with horror – of her mother when what she thought was private became public? Or her soon-to-be married daughter? Or her neighbor, Hy-Vee clerk, banker?
The exposure is humiliating – and not just because of the Andrew Weiner-ness of some content. Her emails expose something more revealing than sexual desire. She spills her heart. Her doubts, her fears, her joys. Herself.
Granted, she didn’t intend to broadcast that to God and the world as she typed away, albeit, on school equipment with a school e-mail account. So let’s just get this out of the way: Reckless, reckless, reckless. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
The Sebring case, however unfortunately cliche among public officials nowadays, does illustrate the clash of public and private.
While I personally don’t excuse it, I do think we have blurred the line between the two in our work and personal lives.
First there’s the issue of time. When work email syncs to your phone and you’re answering questions or solving problems late into the night, it’s a trade-off for a title or salary and an expectation that you can carve out a window in the elusive nine-to-five for an appointment or errand.
Then there’s technology and how readily the human race is (800 million users and growing on Facebook) to turn their innermost thoughts into screen wallpaper. Have thought? Publish thought.
Suddenly everyone is a journalist and the result is a range of Arab Spring and TMI. Just look at the 150-plus omaha.com readers who chimed in on this issue in the comments section. Or those who will choose to comment on this web site on issues deeply personal. Or even when we’re dashing off a note to a lone receiver, we act like we’re in a confessional and spill our guts.
We are in the Age of Exposure, revealing intentionally – and sometimes not – of the private. Much of what we reveal can be filed under: Who Cares? Some might argue Facebook posts are as harmless as bumper stickers.
But if I go back to my mother, she hated those too. Despite holding strong opinions, she felt a bumper sticker advertising bland platitudes revealed too much about her.
Forum comments. Tweets. Facebook posts. Emails to a lover. Like the millions of here-today-gone-in-seconds text messages we send, they seem to evaporate from the record in the wind of invisible digital signals. Elusive-seeming, yet all too permanent.
The Sebring case serves as reminder of how public our private selves are.
But let any of us who has NEVER put something in writing we wouldn’t want our mothers to read cast the first stone.
Do you wonder, once news hit in Omaha Saturday, how many people started hitting the delete key in their own accounts?
Erin Grace is a reporter at The World-Herald. She and her husband are the parents of three children. Read her here on momaha.com