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What Can We Learn From Tyler Clementi's Death?

The front page of the New York Times, the top of Google trends, and on every TV news station we’ve heard the story today of Tyler Clementi, the Rutger’s freshman who took his own life after his roommate live streamed video of him having physical engagement with another male student.

It’s a sad, tragic story. It’s horrifying and it’s been upsetting me all day and will surely upset me for a long time to come. But what can we learn? That privacy no longer exists in the Internet Age? That our secrets will trickle out, pixelated in 0′s and 1′s for all of the digital world to see no matter how cautious we are?

We can’t be on constant watch. Tyler clearly had no idea he was being live streamed. And he’s not the only one. Every day we hear stories of uploaded videos, texts that were meant to be mana-a-mana uploaded for the world, and information never intended to be public is leaked. The era of Big Brother has arrived in the form of our families, our friends, our roommates, the guy across us with a cell phone camera on the subway or in the locker room.

What I didn’t know, is that some of these things go beyond merely being morally and ethically bankrupt. They are are illegal. Tyler’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, and fellow freshman Molly Wei have been charged with invading Tyler’s privacy. Collecting or viewing sexual images without consent is a fourth-degree crime, and transmitting them is a third-degree crime with a maximum prison term of five years.

New laws are being created everyday, but it takes cases like this to put them into effect since we are still living in the Wild West of the web. Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock, which I highly recommend to everyone, was written back in the ’70′s but predicted what is happening today. In it’s most summarized form Future Shock is “too much change in too short a period of time.” One of the chapters deals with how culture, including our legal system, moves at a slower rate than technological advancement, leaving us flailing in its wake. It might be impossible for the legal system to move any faster, but we can make sure we educate people of the repercussions of their actions and of laws that have been made.

Another thing that we can take away, is that while we are full speed ahead in some ways, we seriously lag in others. There has been a lot of improvement when it comes to accepting diversity and the gay community, but plenty still feel the sting of discrimination. Tyler obviously could not handle having people know his sexual orientation, earlier this week Seth Walsh, a gay thirteen year old hung himself from a tree after being bullied at school, and an 11 year old sixth grader recently had his arm broken because classmates think he is gay. There’s a body count adding up.

And of course, gays are still not legally allowed to marry on a federal and national level. We need to work harder, everyone, at educating about acceptance and make real effort to cause a change in the world. Parents, talk to your kids about equality and let them know bullying is wrong. Parents of gay kids, hug them, hug them a lot and let them know they are loved. Tyler’s death is tragic and shouldn’t have happened. The least we can do is try and learn something from the experience and use this occurrence as a spring board for change.

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