Editorial: Regrets in Rappahannock

The world gets more like Rappahannock County every day. Thank goodness it’s not the other way around.

The latest is all the hoop de doo involving the leaking by Edward Snowden — former cyber hacker, now international fugitive — about the pervasive snooping our own government does. “What’s happened to Americans’ expectations of privacy?” everyone laments.

Well, if you’ve lived long in the small-town environment of a place like Rappahannock County, you’re wise enough to know that it’s foolish to have any expectations of privacy at all. Gossip and neighborly nosiness make sure of that!

In a related development, more and more Facebook and other social media users are getting into trouble for what they’re sharing online. That is, they’re suffering regrets for making public what should have remained private.

A Texas teenager, for example, is in jail for making perceived threats that he thought were obvious jokes. And a young married couple faces social shunning ever since they inadvertently uploaded a sex video of themselves when they had thought they were sharing with Facebook friends digital images of their child’s first steps.

According to academic researchers who study these things — and there are such people — the nature of online and offline regret is quite different. What we regret in real life tends to be what we don’t do. But Facebook users usually regret their action instead of inaction, “in which the impulsiveness of sharing or posting on Facebook may blind users to the negative outcomes of posts even if the outcome is immediate,” in the words of Carnegie Mellon researchers.

Once again, Rappahannock County is ahead of the curve. Most people here whom I know regret their actions, not their inactions: Going too fast through one of the sheriff’s speed traps; drinking too much and bidding too high at a fundraising auction; gossiping too loudly at a local cafe.

So as notions of privacy, surveillance and our online and offline identities continue to evolve, our own Rappahannock County might well be the bellwether. 

Walter Nicklin