I belong to the test generation. A generation that will be the first to experience being born with the internet and growing old with it and its consequences.
Every time an adult tells us about the internet the repeatedly tell us that everything we do in the confines of cyberspace will be there permanently. Remember, they tells us, you will never be able to get it back. Once it is there it will always be there for the rest of time. They tell us to tread carefully, tread very carefully.
Our lives will be carefully mapped out on the internet for anyone who really wants to see. There are our Facebook profiles, there are our blogs and tweets. Comments we wrote on other people’s posts, message boards and forums that we posted to. There’s the email groups we’ve sent to on Yahoo! and Google. It is all there, readily available, carefully archived, and easy to find. There is no hiding from it.
There isn’t a generation before us that has to experience this. Any comments they made as teenagers were absorbed and lost into the sound-scape that is conversation; they weren’t recorded and archived. Any writing they did was most likely confined to their English books or letters written, all of which – by now – is either rotting in the bottom of a linen cupboard or has been thrown out and pulped, recycled into toilet paper. It hasn’t been recorded for all to see and read, and comment on, online. The generations before ours didn’t have to worry about a reputation that they created for themselves online as immature teenagers. They have left their immature selves behind, forgotten, leaving just the reputation that they’ve created as responsible adults.
It won’t be easy for us. We will still be dealing with what we wrote and said online as teenagers and children. We will still be mopping up after our countless accounts to all sorts of online services, some of which may embarrass us in our adult lives. We will have come along in our motorbikes and done wheelies on the neat gravel that is the internet. We will have mucked up, but the gravel won’t erode and be raked again; it is like the Moon. In cyberspace the wind doesn’t blow, everything is permanent. The skids will be there forever with guided tours for whoever is interesting in seeing them.
How careful should we be online? No one really knows. By the time that my generation is having children it will be know what is a good level of caution and what is not. At the moment it is a bit of a guess, assumptions, hunches, ideas. Should teenagers not be allowed to browse the internet, or not be allowed to post to it? Should they be protected from themselves?
Celebrities and those in the public eye didn’t have to grow up with the internet. They came to it as responsible adults, not immature adults. Those of us in my generation that become famous won’t be getting a clean slate on the internet when they reach fame, their previous un-famous, self will be three, too. Anyone will be able to look at how this person was before they were famous, how they acted, who they were. They might try really hard to hide from it, but it will all be there, even if it is under layers and layers of new content. the old will still be there, hidden but not forgotten.
My generation will have to live with what we put on the internet now. It will be a permanent reputation that can’t be morphed into something else with the passage of time. It will be the thing that goes bump in the night, that lurks behind us, that follows us in the street.
My generation is the experiment to see how the permanent fool-proof date retention effects the human race and its psyche. How will it effect our chances or getting jobs? Being reputable in the public eye?
Everyone has told lies and done stupid things in the past, but they did that in a time where you could move on, you could hide from your mistakes. But now the mistakes will be there for everyone to see. They might be mistakes that don’t cost us in the short run, but in the long run they might cost us our careers and jobs, our reputations.
We are the generation that is living two lives. A real life and a digital life. Before us, before my generation, those two lives were separate – they didn’t every join – but we are the generation that they will and can join, where they have already collided. They will become the same thing, they have become the same thing. Anonymity is there, but the cloak can be revealed to see the old man pushing the levers in the Emerald City.
Everything that we say or do online can, and will, be used against us.
POST SCRIPT: Before you ask what is this doing on a typewriter blog, I can say in my defence that it was drafted on a typewriter and edited with genuine ink out of a fountain pen, so I hope that it still deserves its place here.