Technological Challenge

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

Here I go again sounding like a myopic dinosaur who is technophobic at best or just purely old-fashioned, but is it just me or are some of these “social networking” Web sites a little scary?

I’m talking about Twitter and Facebook and MySpace and MyLife and blah, blah, blah … these Web sites where generally anybody can post the intimate details of his or her life, with photos, to be exploited in whatever way imaginable by anyone on the cyberspace superhighway who has the knowledge and inclination to do so.

E-mail As Prehistoric As Dinosaurs

This issue came to the surface for me recently when my staff and I started talking about using these sites as a means of promoting our recreation and other city programs. We’ve been using e-mail distribution lists effectively, but as our youth-programs coordinator told me, “Most teenagers and young adults consider e-mail outdated.”

Dang, I just started to accept e-mail as a necessary evil of modern life, and now it’s a relic?

My first reaction to the social networking sites as promotional tools was, “No, absolutely not.” In my limited exposure to them, the overall impression I had–and still have to a significant degree–is negative. But then I started doing some research and found that indeed I am apparently behind the times, because everyone from Fortune 500 companies to presidential candidates are using these sites to promote themselves, their product or their cause.

This is not a reason to climb on board–we see where Fortune 500 companies and presidential candidates have landed us thus far. But it did warrant further investigation, which is where I’m at right now. So please walk with me, and let’s think this through.

An Intoxicating Tale

The first thing I note is that these sites are relatively new phenomena. Facebook, for example, was created in 2004 by an intoxicated, bored, but, no doubt, talented college student, who hacked into the college computer system to copy private material in order to compare physical appearances of students. This same student admitted he was a jerk for creating the site.

OK, so far that’s not a shining endorsement, and coupled with the fact that Fortune 500 companies and presidential candidates bought into it, doesn’t necessarily bode well for our society … but I’m being open-minded, so research continues.

Peeping Tom

One of my concerns is privacy. For example, I recently put up a guitar for sale on Craigslist, and a guy who lived in my city e-mailed back through the site wanting to see it. I didn’t know who he was, and I wasn’t about to invite him into my home without knowing, so I Googled him. The first hit that came up was his Facebook page, and in two minutes I knew his name, his occupation, his work/home schedule, his appearance and a little about his home life. It was helpful, but also a little creepy. I called him, he came over, and he bought the guitar.

Indeed, this gentleman chose to put his personal information online, but it still felt like I was peeking into the window of his home, even though he left the curtains wide open. But what if people figured out a way to use that invitation to pry into other areas of his house and steal his belongings, or worse?

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