It is slowly dawning on me that the future may belong to people who can, you know, shut up. As a committed and prolific talker/writer this is doubly disturbing. But ubiquitous, instantaneous communications have changed the rules for public (and ostensibly private) utterances, and most of us haven't quite grasped the consequences.
It's not just gaffes - which should be in the running for Overused Word of 2012. It's seemingly innocent statements easily taken out of context, ad lib diversions from tightly scripted information controls, or just a collections of words that can be analyzed in convoluted ways by people like me with way too much access to too many minds.
Just this week we saw some missed opportunities, for example:
- Mitt Romney, after a gracious concession speech, erased any doubt of his indiscretion with a remark he could have swallowed instead: "The president's campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift," Romney said in a call to donors on Wednesday. "He made a big effort on small things."
- Israel's Interior Minster thought it was a good time to channel Curtis LeMay: On Saturday, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai was quoted by Israel's Haaretz newspaper as saying that the goal of the operation was "to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for 40 years".
Or so many seemingly smart people who somehow think their e-mails are private.
The New Rules seem to me to be: Everything is on the record and forever. The truth is out there but so is all the other stuff you think out loud about.
Reluctantly, I am forced to the conclusion that this century will belong to reticence and discretion, both individual and in groups. Simply remaining silent more often will pay off defensively as you will have less baggage to carry forward and more degrees of freedom. (Although to be fair, tolerance for opportunistic flip-flopping seems to be increasing - perhaps as a consequence)
Of course, these words will come back to haunt me, I just realized.