To be honest, we’ve laid awake at night thanking the stars that Facebook
wasn’t created until well after we hit adulthood, because some of us were really stupid, immature, and inappropriate our entire lives up until we were into our twenties. (And sometimes, far beyond that.) Younger generations growing up today simply do not have that luxury of adolescent anonymity.
Between their shutterbug parents who post everything the kids do online and committing their own often public online faux pas, regrettable utterances, and embarrassing pictures, kids can no longer keep the mistakes they made as youngsters hidden in the past, safely obscured from their adult lives.
’s Eric Schmidt
might be one of the last people you would expect to be sympathetic to the issue to the permanency of online data, but at the Telegraph Hay Festival in the UK, he said, “We have never had a generation with a full photographic, digital record of what they did... There are situations in life that it’s better that they don’t exist. Especially if there is stuff you did when you were a teenager. Teenagers are now in an adult world online.”
He went on to say that he thinks people’s online personal sharing has gone too far, giving the example of excited parents posting ultrasound images of their kids who are suddenly documented online despite having not yet been born.
He also stated that Google has a policy to erase people’s search histories after one year--which is a nice measure, but if you’re really that concerned about online data catching up to young people, there’s far more that a company like Google can do.
In any case, Schmidt does make a great point, although there’s an argument to be made that as everyone’s information become more public and more permanent, there’s a balancing effect, a sort of mutually assured destruction; there may be a photo of you online drunk at a party in high school, but there are now photos of everyone drunk at a party in high school (or something of equivalent scandal), including, in a few years, your boss, the HR rep interviewing you for a job, your college professor, everyone running for public office, and so on.
Unless, of course, you’re a person of a certain age. Most of our embarrassing secrets are safely locked away in the memories or our family and high school and college friends instead of online. (And those people aren’t talking, because they were there, too.)