The Whole World Really Isn’t Watching

Thomas Friedman is very, very afraid of bloggers.

When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer — and each of us so much more transparent.

[…]

More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased. Our generation got to screw up and none of those screw-ups appeared on our first job résumés, which we got to write. For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever. Before employers even read their résumés, they’ll Google them.

Ezra Klein correctly points out that this is nonsense:

Look: I am young people. I do Google folks. And you know what? There’s not much there. Most people don’t even come up. And certainly most screw-ups aren’t in online existence. If you start a blog under your name, or populate your MySpace profile with keg stands, you’ll be creating a record you may not be interested in. But the pictures of you as an acrobatic alcoholic can be taken down when you apply for jobs — nothing permanent about that fingerprint — and surprisingly few folks start blogs under their own name. The record just isn’t that substantial. And it’s certainly less substantial than it was a few generations ago, when you’d probably be applying for jobs in the city you grew up in, where there was a living, communal memory of the time you fell off the barn drunk.

Quite right. I write several blogs under my own name on which I have written well over ten thousand entries, have a Facebook and other social media profiles, a YouTube channel, a personal website, and even post my photos on Flickr. My life is much more of an open book than 99.99% of the population. And, still, there’s not that much of me out there.

Certainly, I’d be screwed if I were applying for a job as Ann Coulter’s publicist or as an editor for Mother Jones. Then again, I’m not going to do that.

Similarly, were there photos in existence of me doing really stupid things, I wouldn’t put them up on MySpace. And, if I had, I’d have enough sense to take them down before applying for jobs. Those too stupid to show some judgment as to what they post about themselves online have bigger issues to worry about than the proliferation of technology.

A side issue that Ezra picks up on, getting kudos from Megan McArdle, is Friedman’s penchant for taking an interesting insight to its illogical conclusion. As a former teacher, I sympathize with the desire to simplify the complex for his audience, even at the sacrifice of detail. The ability to convey a 90% truth quickly in a way that will be remembered is valuable, indeed. Unfortunately, all too often, Friedman winds up seizing upon a 10% truth.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is filmmaker.

    and suddenly Sturgeons Law goes from 90 to ‘99.99% of everything is crap.”

  2. Bithead says:

    Quite right. I write several blogs under my own name on which I have written well over ten thousand entries, have a Facebook and other social media profiles, a YouTube channel, a personal website, and even post my photos on Flickr. My life is much more of an open book than 99.99% of the population. And, still, there’s not that much of me out there.

    I’m not sure. Google shows “about 1,220,000 for james joyner”

    That seems like a whole lot of cross-reference work.

    That said, it is true that most people don’t know how to use the searching power they have available to them, and probably would see the majority of stuff necessary to damage you…

    …or me, for that matter… I’m only showing around 5700 listings, on first blush.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Google shows “about 1,220,000 for james joyner”

    That’s not all me but, yes, I’ve got a relatively large Google presence. Most people don’t. Aside from mentions on my site, for example, my wife is virtually invisible on Google.

    Still, there’s not much about me out there that I’d be concerned about potential employers or acquaintances seeing. There’s not a lot of information out there that I’m trying to keep private.

  4. Bithead says:

    I guess that depends on (in the case of political sites) what kind of political positions you take, in combination with what kind of job you are applying for.

    Example… I don’t have the link to hand, but I seem to recall Drezner writing at some length about a few people who were denied tenure for their political viewpoints web activities.

    Or, was that you? I’ve forgotten.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Or, was that you? I’ve forgotten.

    Probably me writing about Drezner 😉

    There’s not much doubt that having your political views out there for all to see will create a disadvantage if you’re applying to work with those with different views. Presumably, that works in reverse, too.

  6. James, if you did become Ann Coulter’s publicist would you hire me? 😉

  7. Eric J says:

    Many years ago, in the days before Google, I provided an Internet resource which I would not want employers to see. It’s on the sixth page of results when you google my full name.

  8. Bithead says:

    One of my favorite cartoon series was Doctor Fun… one I’m willing to bet a lot of you ahve never heard of. (OK, I know, Bit, what the hell has that to do with the subject?)

    When I saw this thread pop up, I thought of this particular cartoon. It fits.

    By the way, James, tell your techs to get a look at the LINK button. It doesn’t seem to be working from Firefox anymore… haven’t tried IE. I had to put this one up manually.