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Commentary: When it comes to sharing and social media, count me out

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William Carter, columnist

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

Not too long ago, as I headed back to the time clock in anticipation of leaving work for the day, I passed a group of co-workers who were huddled together staring at a smart phone.  

They were oohing and aahing as the guy holding the phone — a recent new dad — flipped his finger up and down the screen. I hunched my shoulders a bit in an effort to look smaller and less noticeable as I tried to move past unseen.

That didn’t work.

“Hey,” he called out to me, “do you wanna see some pictures of my kid?”

I groan inwardly and fix a grimace of a smile on my face behind the mask.

“No, thank you,” I say, politely declining while I keep moving.

The silence is instantaneous and followed by a chill that coats my back with a thin layer of frost.

A co-worker who witnessed my near miss shook her head reprovingly at me.

“That was mean,” she said. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Done what?” I asked innocently.

“Walked away when he asked if you wanted to see pictures of his new baby,” she said.

“Well, then he shouldn’t have given me an option,” I told her.

 A few seconds later, I turned the corner into the hallway at the back of the store and breathed a sigh of relief at having narrowly escaped the dreaded “Hey, do you wanna see some pictures of my kid?” workplace scenario.

Because I don’t. I don’t want to see pictures of his new kid.

Not that I’m mean, I just think that if there is one thing that can bring about healing in this time of turmoil and stress it is if all Americans come together — right now — and admit that every newborn baby looks exactly like an uncanned canned ham and that we can all be forgiven for not really wanting to look at pictures of babies that aren’t our own.

If that’s going too far, then can we please just make it a federal law that new parents are allowed to take only four, no, three, pictures of their new kid and that they can show them to their co-workers only once? Is that too much to ask?   

Though I’m not much of a picture person, I think that gathering around — and only every now and then at that — with your family and friends and opening up a dusty box of photos instead of touching a button and scrolling through screen after screen of digital images is still the best way to share memories, or even the lack of memory. 

And there’s something weird — to me, at least — about how most everybody with a smart phone seems to think everybody else they know or are merely acquainted with is eager to see or have their own phones infested with pictures of their kid that’s only a day older than the pictures they sent the day before or pictures of the pie they ate or the shoes they bought or pictures of the strange dog they saw — all captioned with inane comments.  

There are too many pictures of too many people and of too many things and too much information floating around these days.

As an old guy, a couple of things I’m really, really thankful for is that there weren’t cameras everywhere recording my stupidity when I was growing up and that the internet didn’t exist. And I don’t know whether to be amused or appalled at how eager people born after 1990 seem to be to want to “share” every tiny detail of their lives with perfect strangers. 

Here’s a fact: There are some things — a lot of things, really — that should be left to memory, kept secret, incubating and growing, privately remembered, without the restrictions of recorded contradiction. And if you do decide to tell on yourself, you should feel free to lie about what really happened in Panama City or Vegas without fear that some smart-assed friend of yours is going to show up later with his smart phone to embarrass you with the truth.  

Because cameras and other recording devices weren’t so prevalent decades ago, no one can prove that the supermodel who I bragged about hooking up with at the beach when I was 17 was maybe not really a supermodel, and I like it that way.  

Myths and legends abound, still, because, way back when, our lives had not yet been tainted by technology. Imagine how disappointed you’d be to find out — just because somebody had a smart phone — that King Arthur’s face was covered with sores and he talked like Pee-wee Herman.  

What if we could prove — through the miracle of digital recording — that Abraham Lincoln farted a lot, gratuitously and with great abandon?   

What if there were pictures floating around out there in the cloud of Gen. George Patton sleeping with a teddy bear?  

Who wants to see photographs of the great beauty Cleopatra picking at her toenails or film of literary genius Mark Twain picking at his nose?  

I don’t.

Our icons and heroes are our icons and heroes not only because of all the wonderful things we know and love about them but equally because of the things we don’t — or shouldn’t — know about them.

This infatuation we have with instant information and telling and showing everybody everything right this second and with social media in particular will, I think, be judged by history to be a curse.

Few people take the time to muse or meditate or ponder anything before posting it or tweeting it. The value of good stories reflected upon then steeped in time and flavored with minor lies — without the benefit of visual effects for back-up — seems to have, sadly, been lost forever.  

And because of this, I promise we’re a whole hell of a lot less interesting than we probably think we are.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

I think I’ll go roam around the yard now and not take pictures of anything.

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

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