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Photo Credit: pueri87@hotmail.com

Are there still blackboards in classrooms?  I haven’t been back to school in a while, but I would have to assume so.

One of my strongest, most vivid memories is of being called upon in class to go up to the blackboard and solve an equation.  I remember the huge butterflies caused by a multitude of feelings: pleasure because I was picked; shyness at having to go to the front of the class where my every move would be scrutinized; the nervousness of making sure I did the math correctly because sometimes, when I didn’t concentrate, I was a bit sloppy.

I clearly recall how tiny I felt, how exposed and vulnerable, standing at the front of the room with my back to everyone.  How my neck burned and prickled with the weight of the 30 pairs of eyes watching me.  How hard I had to concentrate to make sure I was focusing on the problem and solving it properly.  How momentous it was in my mind, as if seconds had slowed to a crawl and the whole world had stopped to watch me work.

It was a powerful mixture of emotion.  The fear of failure and potential of embarrassment was almost intolerable.

I’m sure that almost everyone has had a similar experience.  I just wish everyone could remember the feeling, because this feeling is important.  It’s what keeps us humble, careful and mindful.

This is the feeling that one should have in mind as they are getting ready to tweet, update Facebook, post or comment on a blog, or otherwise send their missive out into the wide, public space of the humongous network that is Social Media.

This feeling of scrutiny, of being weighted and measured, evaluated and considered is key – because it happens.  Just because you’re invisible and anonymous at your keyboard, or on your smart phone, does not mean that your comments aren’t heard, seen, noted.  That they don’t affect people, incite reactions; that they don’t have consequences.

They do.

Greek triple-jumper Voula Papachristou, who’s hopes for gold will not be realized this Olympics because of an ill-considered tweet now understands this; Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella who was expelled for his tweet also realizes what carelessness means.  Years of preparation, sacrifice and dreams destroyed by 140 characters.

Then there is Hope Solo, keeper for the U.S. women’s soccer team, whose public disrespect of Brandi Chastain’s commentary about Saturday’s game versus Columbia was outright outrageous.  Brandi Chastain is an analyst at the Olympics for NBC, formerly of the U.S. women’s soccer team and hero of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, where she scored the winning goal.

But Hope Solo?  No discipline for her.  I guess it’s okay when you insult your own countryman and team alumna.

Social media is the blackboard of life.  You may think you are making a passing comment, a quick remark that will disappear into obscurity.  You may be right, but if your tweet or post is controversial enough, or someone pulls it into the public arena, it may remain in the minds and hearts of a multitude of people for a long, long time.

Do you want to be remembered for making the Olympic team or for being sent home?  For being an integral member of the winning team, or the witch that threw stones at a successful predecessor?

The coverage I’ve seen indicates that the Olympic athletes have been well trained on giving interviews.  The comments are positive, non-critical and overall respectful, modest, gracious and considered.

My question is, have they been given training or guidelines on how to use social media?  I have to believe this should have been done.

If not, I’d ask them to think back to the first time they were called up to the front of the class to write on the blackboard.  And I’d have them conjure up that feeling of import and responsibility each time they hit the button on the device that allows them to write on the blackboard of life.