A couple of years ago I managed to get on the short list for an editing gig at a pretty decent online magazine. This was a big deal for me because I have been intermittently trying to break into the editing racket for years now, ever since getting an associate’s degree in the craft of journalism. If I got this job it meant I could work full time as an editor, instead of as a cook, and begin parleying my way up the ladder to something truly interesting.
Writing samples were requested from me before the interview. I submitted some stuff from my blog of old, which I had written under my main internet handle. I really didn’t have much of an option to do otherwise because some of my best, most recent and most relevant writing had been on that blog. And also I wanted the editor in chief to see my abilities with cascading style sheets and web design.
Naturally the editor in chief googled my internet handle and, well, google it yourself, you’ll see that I’m not the world’s most standard-issue person. I’ve got some quirks, and I let them all hang out on the internet.
It came up in the interview. He asked me vaguely about my “hobbies” and mentioned some “interesting things” he’d seen on the internet with my name. I definitely could have answered the question better. If I’d really been on my game I could have turned my quirkiness into a selling point, but that wasn’t were my head was at.
Long story short, I didn’t get the job. The real reasons can never be known, but I know that making everything I’d written on the internet for the past ten years available to my potential employer was pretty much the opposite of helpful.
But none of us are normal, are we? And if you run your mouth or fingertips long enough you’re going to say something that’s offensive to someone. What we say with our mouths has a certain amount of ephemerality to it. And what we write on the internet can be sequestered with pseudonyms and handles. There is not an internet user anywhere that can afford to have their general internet habits associated with their real name because most of us either have jobs or are looking for a job. Letting an employer see what you read and what you say on the internet is more invasive than a DNA scan. There’s a reason employers are not allowed, in free countries, to ask us about our politics or our religion. If all of our activites on the internet were available to them they wouldn’t have to.
The most serious part of not being able to sequester your online personality from the offline world is that attitudes change over time. Something you say today you may find ridiculous and embarrassing some months from now, or even years.
Take, for instance, this blog post I made on the subject of “hard work”. Any employer considering me for a job would be more than interested in the opinions I express here. My attitude toward hard work is relative to the interests of any potential future boss. And there it is draped out for all to see.
The problem is that I disagree with a lot of things in that post. I would say that my attitude toward work now is significantly different from the day I wrote that post. In fact I’d say that the subject seems fairly unimportant to me now. All the same the ideas in the post have been made “official” by my sticking them up on internet.
Fortunately I posted that material under a pseudonym and it should be fairly difficult to associate that writing with my offline name.
And that is the number one reason why Google has got to change their “real names” policy on Google+, and they need to change it immediately. Not a single on of us is not harmed by putting our loose and unguarded personalities into a database that anyone can search. To be required to use your real name on the internet creates a permanent, inavasive and inevitably distorted profile. Nobody needs that. Nobody at all.
(…oh P.S. You Oxford comma people better hope to hell I’m never in a position of power. Heads. will. roll.)