Lesson missed from Te'o fiasco

Feb 12, 2013
Bill Nolte, Associate Superintendent, Haywood County Schools

Dictionaries define fiasco as a “complete failure” a “sudden collapse” or a “violent collapse.”  Arguably Manit Te’o was part of a fiasco.  If you missed the story, Manti Te'o was a linebacker at the University of Notre Dame with high athletic and academic honors.  This year Notre Dame played Alabama in the national championship game.  Roll Tide.  The game brought additional attention to athletes from both schools.

One of the stories that emerged was Te'o's exceptional play after the death of his grandmother and girlfriend.  As it turned out, his “girlfriend” as a hoax.  The hoax involved an online and telephone relationship with someone he had never met.  As my high school buddies would have said, “He got played.”  The girl seems to have been a boy orchestrating a hoax.

The national media took their usual positions.  “That poor Te’o, someone took advantage of him.  That really wasn’t fair to convince him that he was in a serious personal relationship.”  Or, “Shame on Te’o.  When he figured out it was not a real relationship, he didn’t confess.  He misled us.”

Here’s the real problem.  They missed the big picture (didn’t see the forest because of the trees).  The greatest lesson from the Te’o fiasco is that we are raising a generation that cannot discern the difference between “reality” and “virtual reality.”  How in the world can a bright and gifted university student believe he is in a serious relationship when he has never met the other person?  Why?  Well, social media companies and technology vendors are spending millions of dollars to convince us that things in the virtual world are as good as (maybe better than) things in the real world.

We need to remember that “virtual” means almost real or simulating something that is real.  That means it is not real.  Te’o and millions of other people need to learn that quickly or big problems will follow.  Let’s examine the clever State Farm Insurance advertisement in which the cute blond is convinced she is going on a date with a “French model.” How was she convinced?  Because the Internet says he is a French model.

That is a tragic situation waiting to emerge.  Sounds like a predator to me.  Where is the discernment?  Where is the logical analysis of what is real and not real? I’m just saying people need to pause and sort reality from non-reality before moving forward.

It is OK to laugh at the commercial … as long as we follow up with other people in the room to discern the difference between reality and non-reality.  This is a serious matter.  Take every opportunity to help people separate the difference between the real world and the “virtual” (not real) world, especially our young folks.  I’m not suggesting that we eliminate novels or movies or the Internet.  These can be very worthwhile.  However, if we spend most of our time in the “virtual” (not real) world, we will likely have a hard time living in the real world.  Te’o got off easy compared to others who lose their money, are injured or lose their life.  Don’t let that happen to you or anyone you know.

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