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« If you could only have 6... | Main | Library lunch club post »

Everybody's doin' it, doin' it...

My suspicion is that everybody picks his or her nose. Those of us who consider ourselves more "cultured" will do so in private, use a tissue, and not speak of such acts in polite company. Those acts of which we may not necessarily be proud, we make private. And nostril grooming is not the only, nor necessarily the least admirable act, many of us commit or have committed in the past.

Yet privacy itself may well be a thing of the past, if you believe law professor Jeffrey Rosen's Reading The Web Means the End Forgetting in the New York Times.* Rosen takes a fairly comprehensive view of what sharing our lives online might mean, how much control we may (or may not) have over what others see, and what some technological and legal solutions to controlling the web's tenacious memory might look like.

The conundrum most of us face, writes Rosen, is:

... how best to live our lives in a world where the Internet records everything and forgets nothing — where every online photo, status update, Twitter post and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever.

He goes on to say...

We’ve known for years that the Web allows for unprecedented voyeurism, exhibitionism and inadvertent indiscretion, but we are only beginning to understand the costs of an age in which so much of what we say, and of what others say about us, goes into our permanent — and public — digital files. The fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at an almost existential level, our ability to control our identities; to preserve the option of reinventing ourselves and starting anew; to overcome our checkered pasts.

And much of this "checkered past," of course, is of our own making, and we may never be able to pick up a move on - to another town, another job, or another partner.

...the Internet is shackling us to everything that we have ever said, or that anyone has said about us, making the possibility of digital self-reinvention seem like an ideal from a distant era.

Rosen suggestss some solutions: using a company like ReputationDefender to monitor and scrub your online persona; an "expiration" date added to online information; and even a "reputation" report, modeled after a credit report with the ability to declare "reputation" bankruptcy. (Check sci-fi writer Daniel Suarez's Freedom to see this might actually look like.) Although most likely impractical, employment discrimination based on online information about an individual may be made illegal. Hey, and how about suing your peeps when they post that photo with you with your finger inserted to the second knuckle? Or an avatar that pops up just before sending off a photo asking you to think twice about doing so?

It's heartening to know that Net Gens seem to be aware of and dealing with this issue. Again Rosen:

Plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that young people, having been burned by Facebook (and frustrated by its privacy policy, which at more than 5,000 words is longer than the U.S. Constitution), are savvier than older users about cleaning up their tagged photos and being careful about what they post. ... A recent Pew study found that 18-to-29-year-olds are actually more concerned about their online profiles than older people are, vigilantly deleting unwanted posts, removing their names from tagged photos and censoring themselves as they share personal information, because they are coming to understand the dangers of oversharing.

Are our educational efforts making a difference? One might hope.

Some things this article made me think about..

With this, as much as anything, control is probably mostly an illusion. Rosen reports:

...the Facebook application Photo Finder, by, uses facial-recognition and social-connections software to allow you to locate any photo of yourself or a friend on Facebook, regardless of whether the photo was “tagged” — that is, the individual in the photo was identified by name. At the moment, Photo Finder allows you to identify only people on your contact list, but as facial-recognition technology becomes more widespread and sophisticated, it will almost certainly challenge our expectation of anonymity in public. People will be able to snap a cellphone picture (or video) of a stranger, plug the images into Google and pull up all tagged and untagged photos of that person that exist on the Web.

I remember a very interesting conversation recently with a lady who dislikes her daughter's photo being taken in public without her permission and a colleague giving his lawyerly response that when in public, we give up our privacy rights. The added dimension of the daughter's photo winding up online was what was particularly upsetting to the mother. And I could see both sides of the issue.

I wonder how many of us who write publically practice self-censorship, realizing that one day a future employer may decide to hire or not hire us based on our blogs or tweets or wikis? Are there "truths" that simply don't get spoken, or spoken of by enough of us, often enough?

It also made me wonder if eventually employers, college admissions, and even romantic partners might lower their expectations of what may constitute "normal" youthful indiscretions? And just how many years can count as "youth?" (My own lasted well into my 40s, I believe.) Might we just "wait this out" until what is now considered shameful might be deemed acceptable?

I suspect there are many of us (me, anyway) who have not been particularly well-behaved, but have been just clever/lucky enough not to have those bad behaviors go public. It sounds to me like no matter how clever or lucky we may be in the future, most of our acts will be public. Rosen concludes:

Our character, ultimately, can’t be judged by strangers on the basis of our Facebook or Google profiles; it can be judged by only those who know us and have time to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, face to face and in context, with insight and understanding. (Sounds familiar in some respect.)

I suppose there is also the option of only leading a sin-free life, but where's the fun in that? And how practical is advising kids to just "never, ever do anything wrong - ever?" I'm guessing they would listen to us adults giving such advice even less than they do already - if that's possible.

So readers, go forth and pick no more. At least when there are cameras around.

*Thanks, Jeri Hurd, for head's up.At Bib2.0.

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Reader Comments (6)

I'm not sure we all have to live a sin-free life but maybe some of us, (educators, politicians, clergy,etc.) need to live more careful lives - at least in public. I know one of things I love about living away from my school is having the ability to go out to dinner and have a glass of wine without running into students or parents. And I felt this way even before the advent of the internet.

But I do agree that common courtesy suggests we are careful with what we post. We do need to think about how our posts will affect others. And policing ourselves might be the ultimate solution to the problem.

July 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Parisi

It seems that thanks to the internet now the world has shrunk into that small town where everyone knows everything about you since the the day or even the day before you were born. Everything old is new again.

July 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElona

May I have permission to use the thinkb4ulink graphic at our school?

July 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKarla Talbot

Hi Lisa,

I agree that teachers (as role models) should be held to a higher standard of behavior than the general public. I also think there is a difference being seen having a glass of wine with a meal and being sloppy drunk. We DO have the right to our own lives.

And "common courtesy" is an apt concept for all online communications. Glad you mentioned it.

All the best and thanks for the comment,


Hi Elona,

And I expect this small town syndrome is why many folks moved to the city! (I still live in a town where the grain elevator is the highest building.)


Hi Karla,

Of course. Help yourself!


July 27, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I agree with you Elona. The internet has really shrunk the world wherein you can easily stalk someone. It is not just the celebrities now whose privacy we can invade but the everyday people who subscribe to the internet and social networking sites as well.

I have not much problems with the files stored forever. I believe it works both ways. Just think about the preservation of information for the future generations. I guess, we just really need to know some internet ethics for us to navigate the web safely and securely.

Hi Mirana,

Good point about the positive side of files being stored forever. Think of the treasure trove for future historians, genealogists, etc.!


July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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