Dabbing my toe left and right in the stormy waters of Social Media, I bumped into a fascinating quote from Google big boss Eric Schmidt (Google him, it’s impressive 🙂 ). He said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: “I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time… I mean we really have to think about these things as a society… Young people may one day have to change their names in order to escape their previous online activity.”
This is a concern I have voiced for a long time now. Do people really know what they are sharing? Do people really want to tell every last detail of their most private lives online, for Google to index? Do people realize that that very cute picture in that minuscule teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini is available for their future boss? What about the massive tagging of pictures taken by smartphones in the dark of a hen night? Do people realize Tweets are indexed and kept, long after their authors have deleted and forgotten them?
Schmidt has a point. Digital citizens should be more aware of the digital traces they leave behind. Some social auto-responsibility is required, indeed. Some social clean up even: map your real friends. Find a circle where sharing is mutual and well defined. Un-friend and un-follow the shady ones. Be online street-smart. And we need more e-netiquette. The freedom of waving your digital camera around ends where someone else’s freedom (for privacy) begins. An opt-in/opt-out for tagging?
We all can become social-digital smarter. But we’ve all been young. We’ve all partied. We’ve all made big, social mistakes. Luckily, for my generation, the memories of those mistakes have been blissfully eroded by the softening hand of time. Should we now be merciless on youngsters that made that one drunken mistake online? Should we continue to judge that one girl for loving the wrong guy just a bit too much, and ending up tagged on exgirlfriends.com?
Maybe Eric Schmidt and his all-powerful Google have a responsibility here: can you get a second chance from Google? Imagine, mister Schmidt, if a youngster made that one online mistake, and motivates why he/she would like to see it blown into –permanent- oblivion. Could you alter your logarithm, and give the kid the rest of his/her life back? Would that not be easier, more respectful, and more educative than just offering future generations the possibility to change their names?
But I do not want to put the entire burden on Eric Schmidt’s shoulders, I agree with online consultant Suw Charman-Anderson who said somewhere: “As a society, we are just going to have to become a bit more forgiving of the follies of youth.”