Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Everyone Knows Everything and No One Knows how to Shut Up

Well, we're finally here. Everyone knows everything all the time. And, aparently, a lot of people don't know when to keep their proverbial mouths closed.

Cases are ending in mistrials because jurors are blogging, twittering and otherwise talking about the cases for which they are seated. Everyone knows that jurors are not supposed to talk, yet talk they do, and in ways that are much, much more impactful than casually mentioning something over dinner. Jurors are broadcasting. What makes no sense is that judges surely tell jurors they may not talk, blog, email, research, etc., the cases they are to decide. Yet people do it anyway.

But can you blame the juror? He or she is a regular person who now lives in an online world. "Google" and "friend" have become verbs; Wikipedia is the most successful encyclopedia. (My 10-year-old can't be blamed for not knowing how to research something in the library; he has everything he needs at his fingertips.) Anyone - ahem - can have a blog.

Yes, I say, blame the juror. Having the ability to communicate is not the same as having the responsibility to communicate. In fact, successful, responsible communication often means saying nothing at all.

I'm reminded of an article I once read about SUVs during the height of their popularity in the U.S. Owning one, the writer suggested, wasn't about the need to drive off-road; it was about the ability to do so. After all, he said, how much off-roading does one do on the way to buy some milk?

Don't get me wrong: I think it's great that communication is no longer in the hands of those who have the ability to buy ink by the barrel. Mass communication has truly become accessible to all. But I think many people have yet to learn that having the means to do something does not necessarily mean they should.

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