With the rise of facebook, MySpace, Tagged, Yahoo, WordPress, Zimbio, Twitter, Flicker and Dippity Doo, one aspiring to have any sort of professional career at all — and to season that career with some off-the-clock blogging, video blogging, YouTubing or social networking — really has to be in tune with what is and is not online and freely available for anyone and everyone to view.
Take this story about future Barack Obama White House speechwriting director Jon Favreau, who found his mug posted on facebook, making a joking hand gesture at a cardboard image of Hillary Clinton at a party. Once Favreau realized it was up, it came down. But as the story noted, the damage was done at that point. Obama’s speechwriter isn’t Obama, nor a preacher and has the right to drink and make jokes or whatever like anyone else. But increasingly, it’s becoming tougher and tougher to separate folks’ private and personal lives, especially if those same people fancy social networking, where friends and family can check up on loved ones 24/7. In essence, facebookers and the like can relate personal and detailed information to those they see every day and also to old friends with whom they might not have spoken with since grade school.
The complexities this creates are stark. In some senses, it’s a beautiful thing to be able catch up with classmates from years bygone. I’ve gotten several comments from fellow facebookers whom I haven’t seen in ages, who simply say it’s nice to learn what I’m up to these days and how things are going. I feel the same way. It’s nice to A) know these people are still alive and B) be able to get a tiny glimpse into what they have made of themselves since I last saw them eating crayons or accidentally affixing their scissors to their foreheads with Elmer’s Glue.
OK, I exaggerate, but that’s the plus side. The negative side, and the side one has to be continually mindful of, if again, one aspires to have some semblance of a professional life: content posted to blogs or facebook or wherever doesn’t just exist in the present and then become unviewable once the sun sets on the day it was posted. It doesn’t vanish once posted for more than a day or two. It becomes catalogued, especially content posted to blogs and Web sites other than facebook (but facebook too). Both the questionable and unquestionable content exists somewhere, and if someone tries hard enough, dirt can usually be found. Nowadays, more than ever, bosses are beginning to, almost immediately, Google a job candidate’s name before even moving to step 2 in the hiring process. In this regard, those with common names have a one up on those of us with quite uncommon names.
Me? I’ve got nowhere to hide. I won some arcade game tokens from a contest in 1997. It’s on Google. I own a Counting Crows fan Web site. It’s on Google. I’ve made YouTube videos of me playing rock ‘n’ roll music. It’s on Google. In fact, Google my name, and I will guarantee to the 99.5 percentile that whatever content is found is mine. Keep in mind, I’ve been dabbling in Cyberspace a long time, so if you actually try it for yourself, there’s sure to be something there to cause surprise. But I hold no claim to Google, so I can’t exactly erase anything.
Regardless, my point is and suggestion is this: to the best of your ability, monitor the content online that has your name attached to it, if only for professional reasons. I can’t judge whether I’ve done a good job of this myself. I’ve done OK. I don’t think there’s anything I’d be ashamed of anyone seeing. If someone declines to offer me a job based on something I wrote 10 years ago when I was in college, then so be it. That’s probably not an organization I would want to work for with such narrow-minded decision-making. Clearly, a person’s thoughts, feelings, emotions and maturity levels evolve. I obviously don’t know if any of my current or former employers have Googled me (I have my suspicions that at least one did … and I was hired anyway). Fortunately, I haven’t posted any gothic poetry lately or uploaded a picture of myself feeling up a cardboard representation of the secretary of state, so hopefully, I’m in the clear.
The lesson: Google your own name and Google it often.