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The On-Again-Off-Again Record
“Um...this is all off the record...right?” The woman I’m interviewing looks up at me, eyes wide and white with split-second distrust.
Sigh, the life of a reporter. I click off my recorder, place my pen neatly down from its poised position and clasp my hands together tightly. As usual, we’re twenty minutes into an interview, and my interviewee is experiencing what I like to call “spoke-too-soon-remorse.”
“Yes, we’re off the record now, if that’s what you want,” I said to her with an upmost, polite-as-I-can smile. Sometimes I wish I could enter all of my interviews explaining that you can only take something “off the record” before you say it.
Perhaps then, my darling interviewees would think before they spoke. They would choose their words a little more carefully. They wouldn’t cast them so generously and recklessly before me and my reporter’s notepad like they were strands of Mardis Gras beads.
Luckily for my interviewees, I’m not a particularly vindictive writer. As many times as I have had the opportunity to “Woodward and Bernstein” someone because of a careless answer they’ve given me during an interview, I haven’t.
Because I’ve totally been there, too.
I’ve experienced the same wide-eyed, “I can’t believe I just said that,” shallow-breathy panic before. When words that I’ve spoken that can’t ever be taken back. And if you are immersed in any sort of social media site, chances are you have too.
Tweet for Tat: 140 Characters that Fired Back
“Brett, could you step into my office for a minute?” my old boss, the restaurant manager, said to me one evening.
“Sure!” I replied, as I cheerfully unlaced my server’s apron and followed my boss to the back of the house, and past the kitchen to his dingy, windowless office. Our restaurant’s fiscal quarter was coming to a close, and his special attention to me could only mean one thing: I was being promoted.
He motioned for me to sit, and I plopped in the chair in front of his desk, fidgety with excitement. I had been working twelve to sixteen hour shifts regularly. Covering for my coworkers when they were sick, coming in to work shifts on my days off. I had earned this.
“I have a few things I’d like to go over with you,” he said to me as he looked over his eyeglasses. He was shuffling through a few sheets of paper on his desk.
“I have here a few salacious tweets that came from a username, “thebrbb.” Is that you?” he asked.
I slowly nodded my head. My boss turned back to the pile of papers on his desk, and read off the top sheet.
“‘Pasta Night,’” he read. “‘The night that our restaurant tries to be the Olive Garden. Prayers please...’ did you write this?”
“Um, yes,” I stammered, feeling my face grow fifty shades of pink. Pasta night was the night each of the servers disdained working. Every Thursday night the restaurant would fill to the brim with swarms of children under the age of five--all of whom ate for free, wrecked the restaurant and spilled their juice or countless soda-refills, in-spite of their spill-free cups (yes, impressive, but annoying)--and the ever-low-tipping adults who belonged to them.
On Pasta Night, patrons could walk through the buffet line in our open kitchen and choose the pasta, sauce, protein and vegetables they wanted mixed together for their enjoyment. Like I said, made-to-order-Olive-Garden.
We all hated it. And each of us usually rebelled to the evening by posting some sort of cheeky, disdainful comment on our Facebook statuses or Twitter accounts. I had somehow overlooked the fact that my Twitter account was no longer set to “private.”
Totally busted. Suffice it to say, I was not promoted that day in my boss’ office as he shuffled pages full of snarky remarks I made about my employer. He reminded me that my positive attitude at work was immediately canceled out if I was guilty of tweeting my “true colors.”
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Those 140 characters taught me a lesson. My words lowered the morale of my coworkers, and gave a bad reputation to our establishment. And I, the girl who never had her name written on the board in grade-school, was given my first disciplinary write-up. Two more of these, and I’d be subject to a blush-pink slip.
Though, I can’t say it was a total loss. Pasta Night ended a few weeks later. If our patrons wanted fettuccine, they’d have to go to Olive Garden, after all.
Do Four-Letter Words Make a Sound if No One’s There to Hear Them?
When I’m safe within the silo of my vehicle, my mouth runs wild. When a car pulls out in front of me, tailgates me or passes me on the right without a turn signal (I hate that), there are some words and attitudes that naturally bubble out of me; the soil and rocks that clog the geyser quake and Old Faithful springs up.
The same thing has the potential to happen online.
Don’t believe me? Read any string of comments on any one of the billions of videos on YouTube. Nasty, heated commenters are given the nickname “trolls.” They’ll have you asking, “How did we even get here?” when you find very opinionated commentaries on gay marriage and abortion on videos of kittens riding Roombas.
Or even babies laughing, for crying out loud.
The fact is that we are becoming absorbed in a culture that has simply forgotten to think before speaking. It happens when we flick our fingers over our keyboards, it happens when we ask to be taken “off the record,” and it happens (at least with me) behind the wheel of a car.
“Word vomit” was a problem in the Biblical era. Otherwise, whole chapters about “taming the tongue” wouldn’t exist. But now, nearly every one of us has the privilege of push-button broadcasting at the tips of our texting fingers. Now it’s all-too easy for our tongues to cause rip-roaring fires (James 3:6).
But, what happens when we treat our statuses like they’re only words that we say out loud in our cars? These words spark and flare over the soft white glow of our illuminated social devices. According to James, the tongue is like a rudder of a ship (3:4), it’s a small part of us, but it guides our lives and thoughts.
Let’s call the tongue--or our flip, unthinking Facebook and Twitter posts, the needle on the record player. The thing that scratches over the 45s and ignites the music nestled within its grooves. Likewise, the words we choose. But, unlike interviews for news stories, these records will never be “off.” If we’re not careful, these fires will never subside.
So, be careful little bird, what you tweet!
Brett Wilson is a Christ-loving, single, curly-haired, left-handed coffee-addict. She is a public relations writer in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Brett lives with her best friend and a Boston Terrier named Regis. You can read more from Brett at her site, www.amanworthwritingfor.com, or on Twitter.