Events of this past week have revealed a dangerous trend. For those with children who are school age psychologists are reporting an epidemic of conduct they term cyber-bullying. The concept that one child could effectively bully or coerce another through computer or cellular phone contact seemed attenuated. Until this week anyway. Because what this writer has seen in the past week is three instances where adults have been completely intimidated by a spouse or former spouse. In each instance the method employed was either email or, perhaps more ominously, text messaging. In each instance the victim was a highly educated professional; the very kind of person one would think least likely to fall prey to bullying of any kind.
But in three separate instances involving six bright people, we have seen one person drive another to the edge of distraction. In two instances the core element was a dispute over management of children born to a relationship. In the third however, we saw nothing more than a dating relationship gone bad and one participant’s efforts to use email and text messaging as a means to try to keep the relationship going.
Could this really occur with adults? Picture yourself in a situation where you are coming out of a painful divorce. You have recovered your own time; time to work; to think; to reflect; to relax. But just as you are trying to do those things; your phone is ringing. Each time it is a demand, a direction, a demeaning comment. Often it is a challenge to whether the parent receiving the message cares about the children. Sometimes it is just a terse dismissal seeking to deny the recipient the dignity of self worth. Any one of these messages; any two or three could be dismissed. But when the messages do not stop the sense that one is in control starts to slip away. The fact that these messages come electronically is almost more insidious. There is no ability to instantly respond. Yes, one can type and send a reply. But that does not mean the response was received or read. The attacks can be unrelenting as one can send dozens of messages every hour.
A month ago I would have been skeptical about this. After all, one can simply turn the machine off. But we are addicted to mobile communication devices. Sit in any meeting today and watch the adults as they reach for the Blackberry or the cellphone and until we learn to master these devices People will take advantage of them to hammer away at others.
We pride ourselves on being current. Electronic devices allow us to do that. Whether it is the Yankee Oriole game, when a child gets off the bus or the price of gold on the Comex, we want to know and know now. But those of us who are adults can remind ourselves that 95% of the information we are recovering is fairly useless background. We boarded buses at 7:30 AM and our parents did not hear from us until 3:30 PM. We found out about the game by reading the paper or watching the news. We did not even know what Comex was.
The purpose is not to inveigh against the Blackberry or email. In fact they can be extremely useful tools in communication. But, in the wrong hands these devices are being employed by manipulative and angry people to control your life. The result is that intelligent and well educated people lose all sense of perspective because others insist on using these devices for no purpose other than intimidation. We need to master technology before others use it to master us.