Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, 18, killed himself Sept. 22 after his roommate Dharun Ravi and his roommate’s friend Molly Wei allegedly taped him - secretly - in an erotic, homosexual encounter in his dorm room and then broadcast the video via Skype.
This "stunt" isn’t just a college prank gone bad. It is evidence of the dehumanizing effects that technology is having on young people. I very much doubt that Ravi and Wei are murderers at heart. The "thrill'' of using a Webcam and Skype and Twitter to play-act as producers and directors turned their victim (Clementi) into nothing more than another contestant on a mean-spirited, ill-conceived reality show.
That’s what technology does to people, though. Working from behind a camera and sending images into cyberspace now removes the human face from the actions of many, many people. The hardware and software of Skype and Facebook and Twitter and many, many other Web standards can be a virus that scrambles the code of the empathy on the hard drives of their souls. They literally turn into the purveyors of entertainment who lose sight of where Web life begins and real life ends.
If guilty, Wei and Ravi are killers, though they will never be charged with murder. Their charges will be for invasion of privacy and, perhaps, a hate crime (if it can be proven their actions were motivated by Clementi’s sexual orientation). They have been inhaled by the very technology they intended to use to have some fun at another person’s expense. The technology warped the moment and their intentions and tapped and magnified something perhaps deep inside them—a desire to destroy another person.
Yet here is the most frightening possibility of all: Wei and Ravi may have had no deep, dark desire to bully and humiliate someone to death at all.
The Web and webcams and Skype and Twitter may have hijacked essentially decent people, kindled some potential for intrigue and eroticism and practical joking that resides in millions and millions of young Americans and turned it in a lethal force.
Even Clementi may have been commandeered by the Web Wednesday, since he broadcast his intention to kill himself on Facebook. He may have lept off the George Washington Bridge and been oddly awakened from the trance of technology when the wind actually whipped through his hair and the cold water actually shocked him into reality—if only for an instant.
“I can’t believe what I just did,” he might have thought.
Exactly, because even the victim in this case seems to have been teetering on the brink of real life and Facebook life, where he tragically sent to a host of false “friends,” his last intention on this good earth.
We are at the brink of a psychological/techological epidemic of massive proportions with increasingly lethal consequences that will unfold over the coming years. I do not know if we have the will to deal with it. That’s how seductive new technology really is. We might unravel our souls and be very happy to watch it happening, live, streamed on the Web.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, “Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty” has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.