Editorial: Don't Tread on Me

This past month, I attended SHARE in Boston. And yes, there continues to be innovative technologies and fresh strategies coming out of this traditional organization. Maybe that’s why SHARE, the original computer users group, commemorated its 95th meeting in the cradle of American history -- Boston.

On this trip, unlike others, I found the time to wander through a small cemetery, Boston’s Granary Burying Ground, where the remains of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Parker, John Otis, John Hancock, "Mother Goose," as well as the victims of the Boston massacre were interred. Having been born and raised in Philadelphia, I am fascinated with the period surrounding the birth of our nation and enamored with cities like Boston, Trenton and Yorktown. Those were times when hard-working men and women broke with tradition, risked everything and forged a new way of thinking and a new way of life.

While trying to memorize the details of the graveyard, I observed a group of middle school children thundering into the cemetery, obviously on a history field trip. This class, however, immediately proceeded to run across graves, kick at markers and stand on tombs. One child danced about screaming, "Ew, you mean I’m standing on dead people?" The children clearly were old enough to know better, but, worse yet, so were the parents or teachers, who did nothing to stop the disrespectful action -- despite several signs that clearly asked people to "Please remain on the path."

In fact, the accompanying adults furthered the frenzy by challenging students to find certain graves -- a scavenger hunt for dead patriots, as it were. The most disappointing aspect of this whole encounter is that this appalling behavior could be, and is, carried on at nearly any school trip, in any city, at any given time.

Where did the simple concept of respect go? When did following a few simple rules become replaced with "I can do whatever I want?" Where are basic values and common courtesies? Who’s teaching our children this mentality? For it is definitely a learned behavior.

For example, at a water park this summer, I witnessed adults cutting in lines, pushing in front of small children, taking rafts from children and not paying for items. And, yes, these were adults, not adolescents, but parents. They carried on as if they were the only people in the park, and when confronted by a staff member, a few choice words and gestures were fired at the teenage staff worker, and off the "adult" went.

It seems we’re no longer accountable for our actions. Two hundred years ago, a person stood up for their actions and accepted the consequences, or they were considered a coward. Of course, there are always exceptions, but I’m talking about a culture of "I gotta do what I gotta do and the hell with you."

Granted, things are different from the 1770s -- different, even, from when I was a child. As we continue to enjoy the freedoms won for us over the years, we must remember that with these freedoms come a responsibility to act as a member of a society, as well. As a journalist and an editor, I understand the freedom of individual expression. It’s a fine line to walk, but still it can be toed. To break with tradition, do we need to leave behind traditional values? Are we so involved with our work, deadlines and the desire to meet our goals that others are totally inconsequential?

Voice mail, e-mail and cell phones all eliminate the need to look someone in the eye. Technology is breaking down traditional social skills that are developed through human interaction, and I fear we will be much worse off for the experience. Compounding this phenomenon is that people are emboldened by the mask that is the electronic interface behind which they can hide.

What does this have to do with networks and middleware? Nothing. What does it have to do with the users and the future users of these systems? Everything. Maybe it’s time we look up from our keyboards, let go of our deadlines and politely acknowledge one another. From there, maybe common courtesy and respect will be reborn, so someday people won’t dance across our graves laughing; but will say these were a people of integrity who treated each other with respect.