Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Remembering and Forgetting Online

For one of my classes I'm reading a book by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger called Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. It covers many different aspects of forgetting and remembering, and how a switch to digital media has altered the way humans do that, but one thing that struck me is the age-old (or digital-age-old) debate about how social networking can affect our professional lives.

Early in the book we are introduced to a woman who was denied a teaching license because she had a picture of herself on her MySpace page wearing a pirate hat and holding a drink. There are plenty of people out there who would say, well, then she shouldn't be posting pictures like that online. Anyone can see them and you deserve what you get and so on. It's the same argument that comes about when you hear of someone being fired for complaining about their job on their own Facebook page.

I hate that argument. A lot. See, if this woman was in the process of obtaining a teaching license, she had to at least be old enough to be through college. Unless she's a Dougie Howser-style genius, she's probably in her mid-twenties. Certainly of legal drinking age. Now, a review of the book mentions that there may have been other factors in her denial for a license than just the photo, however, it shouldn't have been a factor at all. Personal activity, unless illegal or wildly unethical (no, drinking does not count as unethical, nor does profanity or consensual adult sex), ought not to be held against people who are otherwise qualified.

Many of our interactions happen online. I'll be posting tomorrow about internet-based friendships. So, naturally, that's where our conversations about work or our photos from parties will end up. Before, yes, they may have stayed confined to a phone conversation or personal scrapbook, but people were still behaving the same way. Just because these things are easier to find doesn't mean it's alright to use them against people.

The job market is awful right now. It's really bad. I don't have to tell anyone that. Employers are at such an advantage that they can put applicants through intense, rigorous, borderline ridiculous screening processes for pretty low-level positions. As it already is, we have to be nearly perfect to even get our resumes considered for anything other than the circular file. Companies should not be adding to this by scrutinizing what we post as normal daily activities. It places an unprecedented and undue burden of perfection on people. But people aren't perfect. We never have been. We aren't doing anything different than we did in the analog age; we just have a new way of documenting it. Holding things against us that would easily have been ignorable before just creates a standard no one can live up to.

Let people have their privacy. Just because a profile is there doesn't mean it needs to be seen by everyone. We have a right to a personal, non-professional life. Assuming legality and ethics, the two need not inhibit each other.

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