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The end of forgetting?

Will the legacies we leave in our social networking spaces and blog posts dictate our future choices and otherwise define our yet-to-be?

At the end of July, The New York Times Magazine published a detailed and meaningful look into an array of professional, cultural, ethical and legal consequences of self-publishing on the Web. The article, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” written by Jeffrey Rosen, provides a few examples of “real-live people” and the unfortunate consequences in their professional and personal lives, resulting from their Facebook status updates and/or Twitter posts. To sum it up, the article posits the question, will the content we generate online follow us the rest of our lives?

New York Times MagazineIt’s a fascinating question, and one with which no previous generations have had to reckon. In the workaday world, “societal forgetting” has its place… over time we tend to get a little fuzzy on the “in person” social missteps of our neighbors. But in the digital world, social missteps, like ill-conceived photo posts, are chronicled and archived, ready to be remembered and rediscovered. What if you and your 250 closest friends could see all of your 60-year-old Mom’s less-than-flattering high school party pics with the tap of a few keystrokes?

Enter companies like ReputationDefender, who, according to the Times “will monitor your online reputation, contacting Web sites individually and asking them to take down offending items. In addition, with the help of the kind of search-optimization technology that businesses use to raise their Google profiles, ReputationDefender can bombard the Web with positive or neutral information about its customers, either creating new Web pages or by multiplying links to existing ones to ensure they show up at the top of any Google search.”

We all know (or we should) that prospective schools and employers will use the Web to learn as much about their candidates as possible. Facebook has been the downfall of many an aspiring college grad in the past few years. But are companies like ReputationDefender the right solution, or do they just fight fire with fire?

It remains to be seen where this goes. According to the Times, “Google not long ago decided to render all search queries anonymous after nine months (by deleting part of each Internet protocol address), and the upstart search engine Cuil has announced that it won’t keep any personally identifiable information at all, a privacy feature that distinguishes it from Google.”

Stay tuned. This issue is likely to grow more meaningful (and divisive?) the older we get. Sound advice? Think before you tweet.


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