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Edward Muzio Headshot

Why It's (Still) a Bad Idea to Shoot Your Computer

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I tried mightily to avoid the Internet video of the guy shooting his kid's computer, but it went viral and I was doomed. I'm won't post a link, for reasons outlined here, but you can find it easily. It's become equally impossible to avoid the follow-up comments posted by the same man, in which he claims that as a result of posting the video he has been investigated by, cleared by, and congratulated by child welfare and police officials. I guess it's not hard to believe that some people saw the video and called in complaints, although from what I saw -- and what he claimed -- most of the feedback was positive.

I must admit that, to me, the whole story is useful in one specific way: It demonstrates what's wrong with our "modern," information age society. Since I'm quite certain that I don't mean this in the way that everyone else seems to be saying it -- and, with only a slight flinch at the notion that somebody somewhere may have a gun pointed at his or her monitor -- I'd like to suggest three ways in which we can learn from this story what (not) to do:

First, the whole world has an opinion. Droves of people -- millions, if you believe the frustrated dad himself -- are weighing in on everything from this random guy's parenting skills to the appropriateness of his daughter's comments to the safety of his family. This is all based upon eight minutes of video in which he is, obviously -- OBVIOUSLY -- having a bad day. Would you like your life summarized in eight minutes? I can think of plenty of eight minute segments of my life that would not adequately represent the whole thing. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of eight minutes of my life that do represent it.

And yet, millions of people burned eight minutes of their own lives glued to the video. Then they spent countless additional minutes sharing it along with emotional opinions regarding the fitness of a man they've never met, to raise a child they can't see, under circumstances they don't know. That doesn't sound particularly clever to me. Actually, I think it's one of the biggest downsides of the information age: At least 10 million minutes wasted that surely had more productive uses.

Even worse than wasted time, the second problem is that stupidity has somehow become empowering. I can't be the first one to say this -- and please, don't shoot your computer -- but shooting a computer is a little bit... dumb. I'm not in any way saying that the man is dumb. You can't meaningfully draw conclusions about his intelligence level from a video clip, but indications suggest that he's not dumb at all: He's thoughtful and articulate, he's attempting to set boundaries for his daughter, he's concerned with teaching her accountability and responsibility, and he knows how to fix computers (which alone makes him a genius compared to me). But a smart person can do a dumb thing, and everyone seems to love this story for the dumb thing: The shooting of the computer has become a sort of battle cry for good parenting.

Why? He could have given the computer to charity or auctioned it off on eBay, arguably with a more useful message to his daughter. "We don't take things for granted in this family" seems far closer to his intended parenting lesson than "If it's mine, I'm allowed to shoot it." Yet, with support from his wife (and later his throngs of online fans) he gravitated instead toward an insanely over-the-top act.

This brings us to item three: Drama creates drama. "Ah," you say, "but shooting the computer sends a message. To just take it away wouldn't have been as impactful." Well, if by impactful you mean dramatic, then I agree. If by impactful you mean entertaining, again I agree. I can't imagine a more dramatically entertaining choice to watch than a frustrated dad emptying his .45 into his daughter's laptop. The problem, however, is that drama begets drama. I'm an expert in workplaces, not families, but this bit of truth applies to any human system: One set of dramatic overtures leads to another, until finally somebody has to break the cycle.

When I meet an executive who whines about how his team is incompetent, I can guarantee his team will be constantly whining about his inability to lead. Here, I see a dad complaining bitterly about the fact that his daughter is -- ahem -- complaining bitterly about him. It's easy to say that it's her fault that he's all worked up, but it's hard not to get a strong inkling as to where the daughter got her dramatic streak in the first place. Sure, in workplace situations, it's hard to do determine "who started it." But in parenting, isn't it much clearer where the buck stops?

The point here is simple: Behavioral patterns get copied. Pause for a moment, please. I do not mean to say "OMG! People are going to see this and start shooting their kids' electronics!" (That sort of response would be yet another example of too much drama.) I just mean that this frazzled dad, through a well-meaning act of destruction and drama, probably created more of the same. The useful piece of his actions -- setting boundaries, restricting privileges and forcing accountability -- would have probably engendered a dramatic response from his daughter no matter how he did it. But the over-the-top delivery can only serve to intensify it. In the end, the girl isn't any more grounded, nor her laptop any more unavailable, than it would have been with a more moderately delivered message. But unfortunately, dad planted more seeds of drama than were necessary, and some of those seeds are likely to grow.

When the whole world has an opinion, stupidity becomes empowering because drama is entertaining. As a result, behavioral patterns get copied, and drama creates more drama. In real interactions, where understanding, communication and alignment are the goals, somebody has to break the cycle and end the drama. I know this to be true from my own research and experience, and I am certain it applies to this likeable and frazzled dad.

Of course, that's just my opinion. You don't have to agree with me, but please -- don't shoot.

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