Thursday, October 21, 2010

Your Phone Creates and Maintains Your Image

Today, our phones are just as much a part of our image as the clothes we wear or the cars we drive. I just received the new HTC Evo as a gift, and you'd be surprised by the gasps and stares I get when I pull it out in public places. You'd think it were made of gold. It's pretty awesome, at least the features I've discovered. However, there's so much more to our phones than we clearly understand.

There are numerous articles and studies out there that report many students and other young adults are addicted to their smart phones. There was an article on today that reports we no longer prefer our computers or televisions, instead we just use our smartphones. We take them everywhere we go. We sleep with them next to our beds. We've allowed them to replace our watches, cameras, camcorders, address books, calendars, computers, televisions and more. If they have become so important to us, than it begs the question: Why do we act so stupidly with our smartphones?

If our phones create our image, what we do with them does, too. I should only have to utter two names - Brett Favre and Eddie Long - to name the latest celebrities at the heart of scandals involving their phones. Both allegedly used their phones to send pictures to their victims. Still other celebrities have received backlash for racy photographs of themselves (Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens) being uncovered, and raunchy and sexual text messages were a part of the Tiger Woods and Kwame Kilpatrick scandals.

We should take a hint from the celebrities. It could happen to us, too. We must learn that what we do with our smartphones isn't temporary. We must use them with care. We must use them with respect. Once we hit the send button, we loose the power to take it back.

I teach my students about controlled and uncontrolled media in my classes. Smartphones should be seen as uncontrolled mediums. Sure, we have autonomy over the creation of content, but once we tweet, post, upload or send the content, it's gone. The receivers can save it, and they can send it to others. Those receivers can send it to others, and the cycle may never end. Public images can be destroyed with just a touch of a button.

It may take years for Brett and Eddie to undo what was done at the hands of their smartphones. Don't make the same mistake. Repairing your image isn't easy. It could take months or years to do it. Be smart. Use the advice I was given when I first starting working in public affairs for the Washington, D.C. government and apply it to your smartphone. I was told, "Don't email anything you wouldn't want to appear on the front page of The Washington Post." It was a scary, but good, warning. You should live by it, too.