Thursday, October 4, 2012

Welcome to Huxleyville

I caught a very interesting article in the WSJ this morning about how, and whether, teenagers' online identities may be used as factors in the college admissions process.

Some schools swear they would never "go there," others won't provide any data, and a third group openly acknowledges that they Google and Bing their would-be cap and gown wearers.  In their defense, they want to know if someone is posting things that might show bullying tendencies, racist or sexist attitudes, or substance abuse problems.

The end of the article was laden with quotes about students and high school officials who are "shocked -- shocked I tell you -- to learn that such an 'unfair' process might occur."  

In THEIR defense, most of the applicants are minors, and shouldn't be judged for the stupidity of youth.

My reaction is a little cooler and more detached.  Rather than argue whether it's right or wrong for people to probe a bit into the "online you," the energies of anyone -- particularly a so-called 'digital native' born in the 1990s -- would be better spent doing a bit more time protecting those online selves in simple ways (restricting Facebook profiles, for instance) or doing basic damage control (take away those public wall descriptions of your, uhh....time in the basement).

During the Internet's infancy, it was still associated with was male, it was nerdy, and it wasn't a 'cool' place to be spending one's time.  Guess what?  That era is long gone.  Guess what else?  It's not coming back.  Regardless of age, gender, race, or social class, chances are you're depending on the Internet just about every single day.  I know that, I don't even necessarily know you.  

We're still transitioning into the world where our 'online selves' blend a little more seamlessly with our 'real selves.'  Today, most of our online selves are much more 'fun' than we actually are, for instance.

Regardless, as we transition, we will learn to be a bit more careful and discreet about what we post.  There are some things you can't control -- for instance, if you're Michael Phelps, you can't control the picture someone else takes and posts (the issue of whether he should have been in that vulnerable position is one for another day).  It's also hard to convince a moody teenage girl why that particular Tumblr entry might be a really bad idea.

Still, we have a tremendous amount of control over such things.  We can wrap some things up to keep them away from the prying eyes of non-technical types (what I mean by that is people who know their way around a search engine), or we can live transparently online (open Facebook profiles, no restrictions to Twitter views, etc.) but act as we would in the analog world.

Whichever we choose, the basic reality is that a certain train has left the station, and it ain't coming back.  You can save the 'fairness' discussion for Phil 101, but real world denizens would be wise to recognize that bad online behavior is fair game.  

1 comment:

C R Krieger said...

Something I read also.

I am not big on schools doing what parents should be doing, but I wonder if the schools should hold an Assembly to inform the students of the shoals out there—annually?

Regards  —  Cliff