For my birthday, fiance and I finally got off our asses and saw Fincher’s The Social Network, the film chronicling the somewhat dramatic and most definitely embellished creation of Facebook and the subsequent lawsuits against Mark Zuckerberg for various forms of intellectual property theft and reportedly skeezy business dealings. The film is fantastic, with biting dialogue and an incredible score. It also raises a key point that few teenagers grasp in Generation Wired: the internet is written in ink, not pencil. In other words, once it’s out there, it can safely be assumed it will live on forever, one way or another.
I have always been aware of this fact; it’s why I usually indicate my postal code as 90210 when signing up for online accounts, and give a completely wrong birthday in many cases as well. I have online pseudonyms to protect my privacy, and also use privacy settings with gusto. That said, my Google Alert search on my birth name, in addition to telling me that there are name twins in Spokane and New Jersey, reveals that even letters to the editor during my university days live on, happily searchable online, with two words and a click. Searches on my commonly used online handles reveal a plethora of information that I might not necessarily want known. For anyone with a little knowledge about my life, it’s very easy to dig up a few skeletons, even on someone as net-savvy as I generally am.
I remember a former friend, whose job involves summarizing blog and other internet hits on various companies and famous people, who was unable to mention certain brands and trademarks on her public Twitter, lest the clients find out she was speaking of them. Paranoia? Not so much; one slag of, say, Harry Potter, would potentially have her ass being handed to her. Then again, she was dumb enough to use her first name and last initial as a handle, so really, she’d castrated herself moreso than necessary. Keeping her Twitter public to chat with celebrities as if they were friends also didn’t help.
That said, what of those of us who choose to be public? What does this say about us? I keep my Twitter public, and often spout off on personal topics. I never reveal anything that would betray my identity (my fiance has a codename, as one example; I never refer to an employer by name), but I am pretty open. I blog here, about my personal life, and also mention it on my music blog. In this day and age, where archives are endless, what possible value could there be? Aren’t we all doomed, as Zuckerberg is in Fincher’s film, to be remembered as the guy who compared farm animals to women, or similarly awful labels?
I believe, as someone whose passion lies in helping the mentally ill, that it is important for those who are currently in the trenches of their own personal wars – often teens and young adults, being as they spend so much time online – have the ability to connect with those who have made it, or are making it. I believe that the only way for me to see value in misery is to turn it into cautionary tales and wisdom to be passed along. I believe in connection, in its purest form, that life is now online as much as offline. Zuckerberg gets that, too. It’s why he understood the potential for Facebook and pushed onward. The world is truly smaller, these days, with the advent of technologies like webcams and Skype, among others. We may not have Hoverboards and self-adjusting clothing as predicted in Back To The Future 2, but we have a hell of a lot of new gadgets and tools to make and keep friends we may never have found without the internet.
The blog may also be educational, with some writers making a living by instructing and coaching others on a variety of topics. I, too, choose to contribute here, blogging on political issues, the complexities of the music industry and why some artists need to be thrown off their high horses. A well-tagged, well-composed entry may yield thousands of viewers who can read one blog and understand an issue that may have been a vague one before. I pride myself on being thorough, and am pleased when some of the entries that matter the most to me are hit time and time again. Knowledge is power; Julian Assange is likely going to prison for daring to turn that power over to the public, but he believes in that balance. I believe in it, too.
For those who dare to be exhibitionists on the World Wide Web, there’s a smart way and a stupid way. I firmly believe one should be bold, speak up, contribute to the discussion. When doing so, however, protect yourself. Opening yourself up means opening up to all kinds – good, bad and batshit crazy – so play safe. Have an email with a pseudonym that is strictly for online site sign-ups; it centralizes spam and protects your identity. I’ve had mine for half my life. Avoid posting clear photos on public sites; you simply don’t know who’s a stalker. My Gravatar is obviously not me. Choose usernames more creative than ‘LucyDBToronto’ if going public, and codename your friends and family, even. One of my public blogs had a key for who was who that I held privately, to ensure privacy. Avoid using the same username everywhere; have different names for different ‘levels’ of connection.
Most importantly, know your privacy settings and when to use them. Because your ‘farm animals to women’ will live on longer than any blog or email account, whether you like it or not.