“I? I am a monument to all your sins.”
— Gravemind (Halo 2)
I googled my name today; an act that inspires equal parts pride and anxiety. In the internet age it’s important to occasionally check one’s history on the public record that is Google, just as it’s important not to mix up the ‘reply’ and ‘reply all’ buttons in Gmail. Seven of the ten search results on the first page refer to me personally, and four of them lead to archived writing from my previous employments.
The internet is a wonderful thing, but I wonder, at times, what it is doing to the careers of those of us who write for a living. I don’t know how many articles, posts, and interviews I’ve done over the last decade, but I’m sure it runs into the hundreds. And almost all of those pieces can be found online in one form or another, perilously close to web immortality.
I’ve had many a conversation with other writers about the mixed blessing of Google, whether in the cantankerous caverns of university bars or the more professional habitats of the freshly employed. The older generation, their formative years cloaked in the analog age, scoff at our misfortune. The younger generation, increasingly attune to the Sauron-like eye behind social media, change profiles like reptilian skins. Some of my friends have modified their pen names slightly to distance themselves from older work, while others have undergone the messy process of trying to remove writing from the public sites of old employers or older blogs. Many worry about the repercussions of their previous work coming to the attention of future bosses as mistakes that would once have drowned in the sands of time become unfortunate additions to resumes.
So far I’ve resisted the urge to become a curator of my online presence rather than a creator, but I fear that judgment is coming. As I and my online content age, my current circumstance and that of the content’s creation continue to drift apart. Already certain pieces have the potential to be a liability for me, and that danger will only increase as I progress into the professional world. I remember defending Orson Scott Card’s early-90s essays in a opinion article, and thinking That’s going to be me in a few decades. Card’s piece wasn’t terribly controversial a quarter-century ago, and his opinions haven’t really changed since, but the tides of popular culture have receded beneath him until his portfolio is a stranded artifact in a tide-pool of condemnation.
Of course, even the most careful individual can no longer avoid leaving an online legacy and still profitably create. Consequently, we, as a culture, need to decide how we moderate our absolute access to undeletable data. The alternative is to sacrifice the outstanding to the zeitgeist of the moment, give in to that pious (and very fickle) outrage which is the currency of the internet.
As of this moment I have not begun dissecting my media profile (I present this site as evidence). My Facebook has many things I should probably remove, and yet I hesitate to succumb to the pressure of societal scorn. Many articles have been written on the shift of social media platforms from a place of expression to one of personal marketing, and the forces that have caused that transition. We built the internet, and it is becoming a beast in our own image.
I would like to say that the web is a monument to each of our best moments, our accomplishments and our creations, but the truth is that the seeds of destruction, rather than the seeds of creation are what truly flourish online. It is the gaffes, the screw-ups, the mistakes that find traction among the new media conglomerates, and those, as often as not, wreck careers or worse.
The internet, as it currently functions, is a monument to your sins, not your successes. More accurately, it is another tool that reflects the base nature of humanity without the blessed transience that makes other platforms forgiving. For a writer like myself, the web provides the illusion of an unlimited audience over the reality of unlimited liability.
And ultimately, the stubbornness with which I refuse to curate my online presence will probably be my undoing.