Recently, a professor of mine posed a few questions to his students regarding an article published in The New York Times Magazine section, entitled, The Web Means the End of Forgetting. In the article, the author raises questions and discusses several arguments surrounding online privacy and how our digital reputations can come back to haunt us. Also within the piece, he examines different reputation management strategies, ranging from legal assistance to online services.
In the next few posts, I’m going to share some of my response concerning this article, as well as my answers to my professor’s questions.
Being On When You’re Online
I think it’s important for people, especially in my generation, to recognize the fact that they are always “on” in the online sphere.
When we’re online, we have a tendency to be braver and a more “expressive”. We share more freely. We express ourselves more vividly through words, images, video, and other media. We get emotional. We connect with others over a variety of issues and voice our opinions. We get more vocal about discontent. We build cultures around certain brands, emotions, ideas, or people. All of these things are directly connected to our human nature to be expressive. The web provides a sort of insulator which makes us feel more secure in our expression. We don’t have to deal with looking someone in the eye if they criticize a blog post or a photo. We don’t have to hear the pain in the voice of someone who has just been flamed in a forum. There’s little emotional connection between what we say and who we’re saying it to in the online sphere.
However, it’s a double edged sword. Words still hurt, bad reviews still cause a loss in business, and photos can still cost you a career. There’s no escaping the fact that our reputations are much more valuable now than they were in previous generations. Word of mouth was hard to prove. Seeing something in writing or in a photo is a lot more concrete and a lot more potentially damaging.
I feel that my generation has a developing sense that what we put out there online can come back to bite us, yet, we’re still young and we still make mistakes. We will still write horrible things on Facebook. We’ll still laugh at Texts From Last Night and share unflattering photos of ourselves. We’ll Tweet things in sarcasm when really we mean something else. The problem with the internet is that there’s little context and that most things are taken at face value. My generation is having a hard time transitioning with that idea because we’ve been told, both in and out of the classroom, to look at context. Though I will say, it’s not exactly without our natures to examine context. We like jumping to conclusions and passing judgment. It puts us in control. It makes us feel powerful in a way. It also feels a lot more comfortable. Once again, these conclusions are usually based on something that isn’t easy to convey in the online sphere – emotion.
We get emotional when we see something disturbing and we pass judgment. We see a photo of a drunk girl and think that she’s irresponsible. We see a text from someone with profanity and we think that person is violent. We read a blog post with grammatical errors or a misspelling and we think the writer is less intelligent and credible. It’s within our nature to pass judgment without considering context, simply because we want to feel in control of our opinions and feelings and its comfortable to be able to put things into certain moral and society categories. Human beings like to categorize. Think about it. We’ve always tried to explain things, whether it’s through science or religion or morality or creativity or otherwise. We like when the world around us makes sense.