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All the Workplace Is A Stage On the Internet

By now, you've heard about Karen Klein, the New York school bus monitor who was verbally bullied by some very mean middle schoolers. A fellow classmate used his phone to capture it all on video and summarily posted it to YouTube, and the rest is YouTube history. Here's the video.

I could only watch about two minutes of it before I had to stop. I know junior high middle school is one of the deepest pits in hell based on personal experience, but it's amazing to think that today's kids could be quite this mean and disrespectful toward their elders. What's equally amazing is how fast the Internet can mobilize to either reward or punish people at a moment's notice.

The swift Internet reaction is truly remarkable. Karen Klein's vacation fund now tops half a million dollars; the kids who bullied her got their names and personal contact information posted to the Internet. The contact information of their apologetic parents was also posted to the Internet, as well as some of the names of their co-workers. Let's just say that they've probably received a few angry messages lately. Police officers have been stationed outside the kids' homes for protection. Rallies are calling for an end to bullying.

Meta message: don't incur the Internet's wrath. Never, ever make the Internet angry. Don't feed it something it doesn't like, unless you want this sleeping giant to bite your hand, and head, off.

Instances such as the Karen Klein fiasco represent the ultimate nightmare for the modern manager, who, as I noted a few months ago, is now veeeery afraid of employees' smartphones, and for good reason. Specifically, management frets over the things employees might quietly record in the workplace, whether it's the boss firing people in strange ways, a co-worker melting down in front of the fryer, or someone sleeping on the job. The modern PR department keeps Ibuprofen on standby. Reporters keep busy, though.

It used to be that there was deniability. Managers and employees were able to debate whether or not something actually happened, but not anymore. Now there's cold, hard proof. We have the video, and pictures say a thousand words. Do I need to mention that Karen Klein was at work when this happened to her?

There's absolutely no privacy anymore, thanks to the smartphone, but most employers can't ban smartphones in the workplace because they've become far too integral to the work. Besides, employees would spend the day debating which century management has time traveled back to, eventually placing it around the early-to-mid 20th Century. Do we have to put on flapper dresses, too? No, we've crossed that bridge to the 21st Century, for better and for worse.

The only option for all employees across the workplace spectrum is to carry themselves like they're being filmed all the time. Ask yourself a question: Would you want whatever you're saying/doing/eating/scratching, etc. to have a million hits on YouTube by the end of the day? Because it could happen. I hate to write this because it sounds so paranoid and Orwellian, but that's where we are as a society until we figure out the role of the Internet in meting out reward and punishment. A decent amount of self-editing and self-awareness is the order of the day until that happens. Just be on your best behavior, all the time. You never know who might be watching. And filming. One day you're working, the next day you're featured on a new episode of Tosh.O.

As for the boys, I hope their lives get back to normal and that they learn a few life lessons about respect, kindness and civility. We all do things at that age we're not proud of, although for us over-35s it wasn't uploaded to the Internet.

Karen Klein is a new model for Internet behavior. She could have let the kids have it, but she didn't. She maintained self-control and acted like...well, she acted very much like a grown-up, didn't she? I don't know if she knew she was being filmed, but how she reacted in the moment speaks volumes. Maybe we're reaching a point in our mind-to-keyboard society where we're so used to watching people be uncivil toward each other online that we're genuinely surprised when we see someone who is able to exhibit so much composure and self-awareness?

The Karen Klein case behooves all of us to think about our own behavior in the larger, uncivil scheme of things, because our unintended close-ups are now only a surreptitious click and shoot away. And they'll be preserved for all posterity online so that our great, great, great grandchildren can watch someday and think, "Oh God, I'm actually related to that person!?" Ah, genetics.

Now I know the Under-30s who happen across this blog post will think I'm being overly-dramatic and a bit of a geezer, because everyone is doing everything online now, we're all living large in megabytes, this is me, live with it. Well, do what you want, then. Just don't be surprised if the Internet-as-organism is camped out on your doorstep by the end of the day, starts sending you thousands of angry messages, and hundreds of uppity YouTube users begin issuing video responses to whatever you said or did if it's outrageous enough. I won't say I told you so, but I told you so.

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