Call it the "oh-no second." You know--the interval between clicking the Send button on a private e-mail and realizing you just cc'd the entire universe.
But it's not just e-mail. Thanks to the ease, speed, and reach of technology, we now have the potential to be bigger doofuses in front of more people than at any other time in history.
For example, nothing says "I am a professional" more than intimate messages from loved ones popping up on screen during a presentation to the board. Then there are the pricey pocket-size gadgets that always seem to wind up in the swimming pool, the washing machine, or worse. Don't forget about social networks that allow you to get up close and personal with the mucous membranes of complete strangers. And if you're wearing a wireless microphone while you read this, turn it off now. You'll thank us later.
Here's a comforting thought: Whatever mortifying things you've done, somebody else has probably done worse. In fact, following are ten examples of real people who have been shamed by technology, along with some ways you can avoid a similar fate--lest you end up in articles like this one.
(BTW: This isn't the first time we've dipped into ways to make a fool of yourself with technology--we've also explored Web Embarrassments.)
Tech Embarrassment 1: Bad Husband, No Nookie
Making snide sexual comments about someone in an e-mail and then accidentally sending it to them is embarrassing. Making snide sexual comments about your wife's colleagues--and accidentally copying her boss on the message--is a recipe for unemployment...if not celibacy.
Mike, a book author in New York, learned that the hard way.
"I was writing about a Christmas party thrown by my wife's employer," he says. "She's a professor of nursing, and they had an annual 'Nurses Ball' for faculty and student nurses. I sent one of my frequent 'what we're doing now' e-mails to several friends, and I accidentally included the dean of the nursing school where my wife taught. I jokingly referred to the party as the annual 'balling of the nurses.'"
In his defense, Mike says he was taking medication at the time. As for the dean: "I don't believe she was at all happy with me," he writes, "which may be why my wife no longer teaches there.'"
How to avoid having this happen to you: Before you send your pharmaceutically enhanced e-mail, try on a pair of Google Mail Goggles, which make you solve simple math problems before sending late-night Gmail missives.
Tech Embarrassment 2: Is That a Laser Pointer, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?
You can probably think of many things that you don't want to see displayed on a wall of a classroom, but there's one thing in particular that you don't want to see ten times larger than life.
Karen, a technology instructor in Texas, was showing a roomful of teachers how easy it was to get onto the Apple Learning Interchange. She writes:
"My computer desktop was being projected up on a 5-by-5-foot screen. I started typing the Apple Web address in my browser. Unfortunately, I mistyped one little letter--and suddenly there appeared lots and lots of mad, male porn on the screen. The faster I closed the boxes, the faster new ones appeared. My copresenter was laughing too hard to help me."
After a few seconds (which she says seemed like a few years), Karen managed to turn off the projector. Fortunately, the audience was amused. Maybe they learned a few things.
How to avoid having this happen to you: Bookmark the URLs you need before you get up in front of the crowd. And bone up on your Ron Jeremy jokes, just in case.
Tech Embarrassment 3: The Audience Is Listening
Christopher Buttner, founder of PRThatRocks in Northern California, had just finished a 2-hour speaking engagement in front of a large university crowd when he dashed off to the loo for a long-awaited respite. With his wireless microphone still on.
"I had to go so badly that when I made it to the urinal, I let out an incredibly loud moan of pleasure, augmented by the sound of streaming water-on-water," he writes. "The wireless lavalier mic I was wearing was still broadcasting live through the PA system in the lecture hall. My lecture, and subsequent moment of relief, was also being recorded."
When he returned to the hall, Buttner received a standing ovation. And, apparently, immortality. "I think my moaning sound sample, and various water-on-water audio clips, are used in a sound library somewhere at a major digital recording institute in Northern California," he says.
How to avoid having this happen to you: If you can't remember to unclip the mic, be sure to strap on a Motorman's Friend.