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.