Will Teenagers Continue Living their Online Lives in Public as they Grow Up?

Jason Fry from the Wall Street Journal writes about one of my favorite topics : “Will the kids who grew up with the Net (After Netters) become more like their elders (Before Netters) as they take on full-time jobs, relationships, children and the other stuff of adult life? Having once craved attention, will they now shun it? Or will they continue to live their lives in public, chronicling their ups and downs in ways their elders will find befuddling and disturbing?”

The origin of his article is a story that claims that “a quarter of human-resources decision makers had rejected job candidates because of personal information found online. ” Fry thinks that teenagers will continue to live their lives in public. He illustrates his thoughts with an example of what’s going to happen in the future: “Today, it’s pretty obvious that having the HR guy at your prospective employer find photos of college beer bongs isn’t a good idea. But that guy running HR isn’t going to be in his job forever. Before too long he’ll give way to an After Netter with an old MySpace page of her own out there for anyone to find. Will she conclude drunken snapshots are a sign of bad judgment and hire someone else? I very much doubt it. ”

And talking about your online persona, he adds: “What do you do when you realize how public your online life is? You could retreat into anonymity and try to ensure you leave no trace online (…). You could try to scrub your online image, getting rid of the things you’d rather not have people see and/or taking steps to elevate what you do want people to see in search results. But that generally doesn’t work. ”

“Or you could say “So what?” and accept that every aspect of your online life is out there for people to find and judge as they will. (…) That’s the strategy the After Net kids have pursued — not consciously, but because it’s the only world they’ve ever known. Will it cost some of them jobs? Undoubtedly — but not for much longer. Because it’s their world view that will win the day as they assume the positions of authority vacated by people my age. The ones who’ll struggle? Here’s betting it’ll be Before Netters like me, with our weirdly sterile Google lives that begin in middle age and our old-fashioned skittishness about online embarrassment and criticism.”

What it means: Not sure I completely agree with Jason Fry. I agree that we’ll see a generation who’s more comfortable with the multiplication of their online personas but I think they’ll be more logical about what’s out there. Anything that’s too fringe will have to be erased. We’ll see the rise of a new job: the Web Cleaner (a la Winston Wolfe in Pulp Fiction), who will go in, erase some stuff and create for you a new, more professional online persona. The explosive growth of Facebook, a site that’s more “serious” than MySpace, could also signal the maturing of the net native crowd.

6 thoughts on “Will Teenagers Continue Living their Online Lives in Public as they Grow Up?

  1. great post, Seb. Having two teenage daughters, one of which is “job market age”, I did an interesting experiment. She is also in a couple of bands, so her personal and band personas are pretty well broadcast(oy!) She was shocked to see the results of me googling her, and immediately had a flurry of meebo and sms messages driving a “clean-up campaign”. “Creepy” was the adjective she used!

    The answer is somewhere in between, in my opinion. More knowledge and awareness of this reality is inevitable, and it will “cause pause”.

    I do believe the market will react with solutions, whether it is the “Google Eraser”/identity clean-up module, or (probably) something none of us have thought of. But, it will come, and it will continue to reinforce the progression of active, live and visible communications. This stuff is changed forever.

    Related, though, I also believe the pace and content will naturally shift from YouTube-centric public display of bodily functions, to a tempered model of self publishing as life stages evolve. We all get more boring and cautious as we age. That, (like ear hair) as equally inevitable…

  2. great post, Seb. Having two teenage daughters, one of which is “job market age”, I did an interesting experiment. She is also in a couple of bands, so her personal and band personas are pretty well broadcast(oy!) She was shocked to see the results of me googling her, and immediately had a flurry of meebo and sms messages driving a “clean-up campaign”. “Creepy” was the adjective she used!

    The answer is somewhere in between, in my opinion. More knowledge and awareness of this reality is inevitable, and it will “cause pause”.

    I do believe the market will react with solutions, whether it is the “Google Eraser”/identity clean-up module, or (probably) something none of us have thought of. But, it will come, and it will continue to reinforce the progression of active, live and visible communications. This stuff is changed forever.

    Related, though, I also believe the pace and content will naturally shift from YouTube-centric public display of bodily functions, to a tempered model of self publishing as life stages evolve. We all get more boring and cautious as we age. That, (like ear hair) as equally inevitable…

  3. Love the idea of the “Google Eraser”, they should come up with a reasonably-priced option that would allow people to choose the relevancy of the links that appear when someone googles their name. Kind of a “sponsored links”, but for individuals instead of brands. And if more than one person with the same name subscribe, Google would ask: “do you mean Annie Bacon, Game designer in Montreal or Annie Bacon, Americana singer in San Francisco?”

  4. Love the idea of the “Google Eraser”, they should come up with a reasonably-priced option that would allow people to choose the relevancy of the links that appear when someone googles their name. Kind of a “sponsored links”, but for individuals instead of brands. And if more than one person with the same name subscribe, Google would ask: “do you mean Annie Bacon, Game designer in Montreal or Annie Bacon, Americana singer in San Francisco?”

  5. People seem to be taking more care in these days with their online reputation. I’m sure that sense of responsibility will trickle down to kids, and if it doesn’t, their parents can always threaten to ground them.

    A third option is encouraging online personas, which can help shield a person’s real reputation while still giving them an outlet on the web.

  6. People seem to be taking more care in these days with their online reputation. I’m sure that sense of responsibility will trickle down to kids, and if it doesn’t, their parents can always threaten to ground them.

    A third option is encouraging online personas, which can help shield a person’s real reputation while still giving them an outlet on the web.

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