Image: social networking photo
valleywag.gawker.com
Cautionary tale.
Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 12/30/2008 8:56:20 AM ET 2008-12-30T13:56:20

Google the name “Kevin Colvin” and your search results will most certainly include many blogs featuring the words “cautionary tale.” You’ll also get a bonus image of a smiling young man dressed in a winged fairy costume, holding a wand in one hand and a can of Busch Light in the other.

Colvin was an intern at Anglo Irish Bank's North American branch when he e-mailed his boss regarding a “family emergency” keeping him from the office around Oct. 31. As his co-workers quickly learned from his Facebook page – featuring the incriminating fairy photo — the “emergency” was a Halloween party. The intern's boss infamously responded by pasting the fairy photo into an email, which was cc’d to the entire company.

Lesson learned! Cautionary tale indeed! Let’s all keep our “family emergency” pics off our social networking profiles! But Colvin isn’t the first person to pull a major Facebook photo fail. And since his hijinks obtained national notoriety on the gossipy Silicon Alley blog Valleywag, plenty more people have managed to derail their lives via online image overshare.

Go ahead and thank evolution for our universal stupidity. It taught us to fear hungry grizzly bears but somehow failed to warn us about the perils of embarrassing Facebook photos. Living in caves, we figured out it was probably a good idea to stay away from spiders, and as a species we continue to keep that in mind. Unfortunately, back then, most caves didn’t come equipped with broadband, so there’s no correlation to access way back in our reptilian brain.

That said, some of us manage to draw the connection between the social dangers of doing stupid stunts in real life and having it documented on the Internet — for eternity. Meanwhile, if someone developed a device that released a mildly poisonous spider every time you went to upload an embarrassing an image, a lot more kids would get in a lot less trouble. Well, after those first few died off, anyway.

In the absence of such an invention, the good news is this: Just as Darwin predicted, humiliating photos will continue to appear throughout 2009 and beyond, posted by the very people being humiliated in the photos. And human nature says this behavior will continue long after your parents, college board and your human resources department cease to care.

“The kind of behaviors we are seeing is something that technology makes possible, and it’s going to be true from now on,” said Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations,” among many other shiny books about Internet culture.

Shirky is a well-known proponent of the theory that the Internet — warts and all — does not  foretell the end of civilization. In a recent interview with Technotica, he pointed to the Amish tradition of Rumspringa— that time when post-adolescent Amish kids are pretty much expected to “run around” and you know, be stupid, without getting in trouble. Because youth is when you act stupid —  it’s just that simple.

Who among us has never called in sick to attend an awesome kegger? Colvin’s biggest fail, it seems, was allowing himself to get busted. And thanks to technology, getting yourself busted  via photo documentation doing the same stuff — at least thematically — that your great grandparents pulled, is a by-product of the Internet age.

“This is the type of behavior young people do that they won’t do when they get older,” Shirky said of the onslaught of potentially ruinous Facebook photos featuring our nation’s youth. “The drunk and naked pictures are going to slow down when they get into their 20s and early 30s – it seems to be behavior specific to the adolescent tribe.”

Mostly, yeah. This does not excuse 27-year-old Barack Obama speech writer Jon Favreau, recently seen on Facebook posing with a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton, smiling and grasping at the cutout’s two-dimensional breast while his backward baseball cap-wearing “bro” holds a beer to the Clinton effigies’ mouth and makes a kissy-face on her ear. As former Bill Clinton staff wunderkind Dee Dee Meyers noted in go-read-it-now Dec. 8 Vanity Fair essay, Favreau’s gaffe just isn’t OK.  But that’s a whole other "Oprah."

10 ways to waste time onlineThe youthful jackassery explanation almost sort of works for 18-year-old Caitlin Davis, who lost her cheerleading position with the New England Patriots earlier this year. The firing offense: A Facebook photo featuring Davis, a Sharpie and “sleeping” Texas Longhorns center Buck Burnette inked from head to abdomen in sexual obscenities, racial epithets and a swastika or two. Well, that won’t be the last time that happens. Kids. Sheesh.

According to Shirky, embarrassing drunk and/or naked images will have what he calls the “Bill Clinton moment.” Clinton said he inhaled, and “the question of drug use by United States presidents became a settled point of fact,” said Shirky. “During the ‘80s Reagan war against drugs, less than 10 percent of the population would believe that a politician ever smoked weed or had done blow.”

Now, it’s understood that you could recruit only the most uptight politicians if they are required to have absolutely no drug experience. Eventually, Shirky says, colleges and job recruiters are going to figure out that if they disqualify applicants “for having an adolescence,” they’re seriously limiting their talent pool.

For example, do you think Fast Company blogger Robert Scoble is going to can this employee he just busted on Twitter (who may or may not have been goofing off on his Harley and Twittering about it)?

Rather than shake our heads and tut-tut away at kids these days, it might be time to do away with the fiction that good business is done only by people who A) make exclusively good judgments and B) have no wild side.

After all, Benjamin Franklin's exploits in France would be all over the ‘Net even now if not for the fact that it took considerably longer back then to craft an accurate woodcut of a carriage-load of topless Parisiennes giggling at the clever aphorisms of that particular member of the Second Continental Congress.

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