Regardless of whom you believe, there are many lessons to be learned from the brouhaha over Brett Kavanaugh's youthful behavior, the most important of which is that young (and old) men need always to treat women with dignity and respect. But we should also be cautioning our kids that this type of dispute will play out much differently in the future.
Consider that Kavanaugh's 1983 yearbook page from Georgetown Preparatory School has been subject to great scrutiny, notwithstanding that it contains just five photographs — four if we don't count his formal portrait picture, and just three if we discount one taken of him as an infant. Remaining are a beach shot with three buddies, one showing him playing basketball, and the final captures him on the football field. Whatever he and his friends might have preserved that didn't make the photographic cut was probably filmed on a Kodak Pocket Instamatic so long as someone was willing to sit in the drive-through at Fotomat.
Hence, we have been left parsing the meaning of written yearbook entries such as "100 kegs or bust," "I survived the FFFFFFFourth of July," and "Beach Week Ralph Club."
Just try explaining that to our kids.
Should such allegations surface in the future about somebody now in high school or college, the visual documentation will include digital images saved on iPhones, plus remembrances posted on Facebook pages, Instagram, and Snapchat. There won't be that "one" picture of a party that someone held on to through the years — there will be multiple versions saved across a variety of platforms. Who was there, what was the mood, what occurred might all be preserved, which is both good and bad.
And it won't just be visual. Some have mocked Kavanaugh for his keeping a calendar from 1982. What looks like a giveaway from the Northwestern Mutual Audubon Society has handwritten notations for: the prom, parties, a father-son dinner, weightlifting, college interviews, beach week, and Rocky III, to name a few. There are even a few revealing that he was "grounded." But many dates are blank. That too will be different in the future. Not only do many smartphones double as calendars, but the ability to cross-reference information sources to determine whereabouts and behavior have grown exponentially.
"People don't realize how everything is now being recorded, not only when our friends take pictures or shoot videos but also the cameras on our roads, in our cars and home security systems, and around our office buildings and meeting areas," explained Vivek Wadhwa, Distinguished Fellow and professor, Carnegie Mellon University Engineering, Silicon Valley, and author most recently of Your Happiness Has Been Hacked.
"As well, our smartphones keep track of everywhere we go, who we talk to, and what we think (via our Google searches and apps). At home, we have Alexa and other personal assistants listening to every word and watching our every move."
Wadhwa notes that today all that information is being stored somewhere in the cloud by the device and app makers — and everyone they share it with. And that by 2023, new smartphones will have the same computing power as our own brains.
If this weekend, there's a Maryland high school house party, or a drinking game played in a Yale dormitory that in the future becomes the focus of national debate, the matter won't be evaluated solely based on yearbook entries, smudged calendars, and faded memories. It will be scrutinized against a backdrop of Uber maps, cell-phone triangulation, contemporaneous texts and Tweets, and PayPal receipts.