Being the father of a seventeen-year-old girl while writing on the internet means I spend a lot of time thinking about my teen years while wondering why I even turn on a computer. While standing in a Mall food court line for Bourbon chicken over lo mein noodles, I ignored the screams from inside of my body for its inevitable fate to reflect on how lucky I am there was no information superhighway when I was my daughter’s age in 1987. Occasionally, okay, several times a week, I offer, unsolicited, my experience in relationships and my career in journalism to my daughter. I counter her eyeroll with pithy remarks about being smart, protective, and cynical. That’s right, I tell my daughter to question everything and walk hard with a critical nature.
This Manti Te’o story about being duped by two or more people who created a fake online girlfriend that the All-American Notre Dame linebacker used to generate publicity that helped him finish second for the Heisman trophy should be taught in schools. I would love for my children to hear about someone closer to their age (Te’o is 21) than mine who eschewed common sense to become so fooled that he lied to avoid people thinking he was, well, a fool.
My three daughters, aged 17, 9, and 8, belong to a generation that co-exists with the internet. They are taught more by wikipedia, online educational sites, and their dad’s blog (kidding) than their actual school teachers. Running across the bad of the web is expected as much as the good. They can type in Taylor Swift or Carly Rae Jepsen’s name into google and be a click away from seeing Rihanna mass tweeted goodies. There’s no reason to be outraged by this, because that’s like being ticked off there’s traffic on Saturday mornings when you go to the mall.
My wife disagrees with me as well as my other family members, but being naive or “innocent” in the age of 4G internet service just isn’t wise much less possible. Manti Te’o, by most accounts, is a nice, kind, smart, well-mannered young man who values his virginity as well as his public image. Yet, despite an intelligent mind and disciplined body, he was allegedly made to look like a total rube by people on social media sites. Welcome to the club where dues are paid in embarrassment and fake girlfriend memes, Manti.
Being the butt of every twitter comedian’s joke isn’t as bad as having to explain your MySpace account musings in open divorce court. So, my sympathy for Manti Te’o stops at “dude, you were dumb, buck up and make a lot of tackles in the NFL as a millionaire”.
What I want my children and you all to know and think about, is that being cynical doesn’t mean you think boogeymen and women are around every corner of Al Gore’s internet. In fact, the web can be and do amazing things. But having a healthy eyebrow raised at stuff that just doesn’t make sense or seems too good to be true is how you survive and suffer fools rather than be one.
Let’s get a something straight between us. This is me.
If I was lying, I’d show you a picture of Matt McConaughey or one of those other magic Mike stripper boys. I’m 42-years-old, married with those three aforementioned girls, with a dog, two cats, and a basement that I neither live in nor write from. I’m clinically crazy but not criminally, I’ve never intentionally hurt anyone other than myself. Technically I met my current wife online. She dropped over 20 grand just to talk to me. That’s almost a true story. But after one phone call, I set up a lunch at Chili’s because chicken crispers are lie detectors. You ask me anything, if the women I live with approve your questions, I’ll provide the answers. I’ve never fake dated a Notre Dame linebacker nor have I used a fake relationship to almost win a Heisman Trophy.
Most of all, blogging, writing for websites, and drawing on my six and half years in my early twenties as a full-time journalist has made me tougher and thicker-skinned. I think this is something a lot more people who are online should be. For those with similar backgrounds, do some good, and relay your web war stories and made the clicking culture more positive.
The great Elvis Costello, one of my musical idols, had no clue there’d be something called the internet or social media when he wrote this song over 30 years ago. He was reflecting on the crappy music business and even crappier music journalism business at the time. But his well-written song, Beyond Belief is perfect for today’s post. I hope Manti Te’o isn’t too gun-shy with the computer to track this tune down.