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Will today’s children have to change their names to escape their digital past? In a nutshell, this disturbing possibility is what Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, suggested could happen in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, as reported by the Daily Telegraph.
The basic concern Schmidt is driving at, unfortunately, makes sense: children who grow up in the Internet Age confront – as a result of their past – a fundamentally different future than generations of yore. Whereas an older individual might have to worry about, say, an article that appeared in a newspaper long ago that portrayed him or her in an unfavorable light, a person who grows up with constant Internet access will have to worry a thousand times over thanks to the fact that they’ve hyper-recorded the minutia of their lives.
President Clinton claims he didn’t inhale. Maybe he didn’t, but this would be a lot harder for him to establish if he had posted “Got blazed outside Bodleian [one of Oxford’s libraries] a few minutes ago – anybody got any Twizzlers?” as a status update on Facebook during his time as a Rhodes Scholar.
One can see it already: candidates for national office in ten years will hire an entire staff to pore over the digital archives of their opponent’s past. Every wall post, photo, and video will be subject to scrutiny, and thus subject to being seen by the public.
Of course, this could happen on a much smaller scale, too. Employers will surely be eager to dig up any information, conveniently in digital form, they can on prospective employees. Future fathers-in-law will closely look over past activity on social networking sites, eager to see if their daughter’s fiancé is really the guy he claims to be.
And the list goes on.
How could one escape this? How can one distance him or herself from the embarrassing missteps of their past? Well, one possible way might be to change your name, and hence Schmidt’s troubling suggestion.
A year ago, Schmidt – somewhat famously, at this point – said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Fine and well, but the fact of the matter is that people do make mistakes, and this is particularly true when they’re young. The difference is that a generation ago, when a mistake was made, it was only entered into the consciousness of one’s acquaintances. This is unfortunate, but a nosey person would have to do some serious digging and prying (and possibility even bribing) to unearth a dark secret of someone’s past. Not so with the new generation: all the blunders of one’s past could be a Google search away.
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At the end of day, this might be more frightening than changing one’s name.
It’s not for nothing that we caution that minors should be kept off the Internet, and even young adults should be much more cautious with what they put online than they typically are.