Where the past ends and the future begins

27 03 2009

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’”
– George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 3

I’m in the process of reading “1984” for the first time. Perhaps because of this, my conspiratorial radar has been on high alert, and the idea of anyone being able to in essence “re-write history” is completely horrifying to me.

The truth is the truth and everyone should have an equal opportunity of accessing and expressing it.

That being said, I am now going to step down from my soap box and look at the issue of privacy and public record from the underdog’s point of view.

The balancing act between public record and privacy is an issue that journalists have had to deal with before, and the presence of the Internet has once again brought it to the forefront.

Things have come a long way since the days when old newspaper clippings were buried in the newspaper office, said Craig Whitney, standards editor for The New York Times in the article “Rewriting History.” In this case, one of the greatest strengths — availability — can also be the greatest weakness. “We’ve always had a sense that the archive is historical,” Whitney said. “What’s changed is now anybody can consult it from home.”

For those who have nothing to hide, there is no problem. But still, public record has a funny way of including a lot of personal detail. According to The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, this can include anything from child custody, to bankruptcy, to medical conditions, as well as a raft of other issues. Even if you are wrongly arrested and the charges are later dropped, your arrest is something that will go into public record and will be there to stay.

With the Web, a person’s biggest mistake is never more than a few key-strokes away. Even after you’ve done your time and paid your fines — or sorted things out with the pesky neighbor who still has your leaf blower — you still must answer for your mistakes. When does it stop? Well, the short answer is that it doesn’t.

Should the content be changed? No. Fact is fact and the past is just that — the past. Saying that it didn’t happen doesn’t change anything. Yes, some of it may be unpleasant to deal with, but I think that ultimately it is how you move on from the speed bumps in your life that truly matters. There are always two sides to every story. I’m not saying this to give people a free pass for their stupidity, but sometimes there is more to a story than meets the eye — and hopefully that is something that the rest of the public (and especially future employers) will remember. Don’t discount someone just because their Google search results have a few “smudges” on them.

“If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.”
– George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 3


What does your social networking profile say about you?

12 03 2009

Thinking of hiring? If you really want to see who someone is, check out their MySpace page. People can always say that they are one thing, but the wonderful world of social networking will eventually bring the truth to light.

Oh, you’re not a partier? Those 36 pictures of you during various stages of your beer pong tournament seem to suggest otherwise. Yeah… that’s what that “Tag Photo” button means.

According to a recent survey, approximately one in five employers admits to checking up on potential employees’ profiles on social networking sites. Some employers think that this practice can help them to better understand their employees and what they can contribute to the organization — beyond what is listed on their resume.

However, this can have its drawbacks. Just ask Kimberley Swann, a British teen who was fired after commenting that her job was boring on her Facebook account.

Not only can personal pages be an important factor in the firing of employees, it is also be key in their hiring. According to the CNN article, “Social networking sites dos and don’ts,” 34 percent of employers chose not to hire a candidate because of what they found on their profile. The article goes on to lay out some basic ground rules that will hopefully not only prevent you from getting fired, but will show you how social networking profiles can be used to help you in your job hunt. And right at the top of the list is a section entitled “Don’t badmouth your current or previous employer” — Apparently Ms. Swann missed the memo.

What is the lesson that we can take from all this? Remember that MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and the like, are all very public, and what you say (or show on them) can and will affect peoples’ opinion of you. So, as a general rule of thumb, don’t put anything up that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.

What is community and who is my neighbor?

6 03 2009

The dictionary — yes, I’m talking about the old two-volume, ton and a half monstrosity that has been sitting in the bookcase forever — defines the term “community” as “a number of people having common ties or interests, living in the same place and subject to the same laws,” or “likeness; similarity; identity.” But what does that really mean for us today?

According to Caroline Heine, as “people are constantly evolving in their needs and behaviors, so to is the meaning of community, both to those who are members, and those who seek to serve and enhance a community’s experience.”

I know from personal experience that people do not have the same kind of person to person interaction that they enjoyed in the past. Even in a town as small as mine, I have had neighbors move in across the street and have never actually spoken to them. Some might make the argument that it is because of this that people have begun trying to fill the void through virtual communities.

The Web has served to broaden the definition of “community” and extend its boundaries — in some cases making them seem non-existent; distance is no longer an issue. What was once confined to neighborhood watch programs, yard sales, bake sales and PTA meetings, is now a global phenomenon. From sports junkies and gaming fanatics, to parenting and more “exotic” behaviors, there is a place for one and all.

Because of this, online communities are constantly gaining popularity. According to a study done by the Center for the Digital Future, membership in online communities has more than doubled in the past three years.

It doesn’t matter if you live in Bangkok, Brooklyn or Great Britain, all you need is the Web and all of your social and personal communication needs will be fulfilled… or will they?

The anonymity of the Web creates its own unique set of problems. While members get to experience the feeling of belonging and acceptance, there is no real guarantee that a person you are having your heart-to-hearts with is who they say they are, no matter how much they know (or seem to know) — avatars can only be so helpful. I think Brad Paisley had an amusing take on this in his song, “Online.”

I think there are many different ideas of what truly makes a community. However, one overarching theme is the feeling of camaraderie, participation, belonging and safety — almost a family sense — that it gives to members. Online communities, while they have their purposes, are merely substitutes for the real thing. These “interactions” cannot compare to the person to person interaction that take place when you actually take the time to know and talk to someone. When the chips are down, a hug via emoticon just won’t cut it. Some think that an online community can meet their needs, and more power to them. But for the rest of you, go out and live your life. Don’t waste it sitting behind a computer screen.