Regretting social media

I had a particularly good conversation today about mining for insight online.  People put their lives online, so from a qual and quant perspective, there is literally bucket loads of information up for grabs for (respectful and careful) brands to sift through for insight.

We were talking about how digital is shaking things up and how terrifying that sometimes felt because there’s no rule book.  No step -by-step guide for what works and what doesn’t.

That’s what got me really thinking.

I wondered what the implications will be for this always-on, over-sharing generation?  Will they (we) regret hanging it all out there.  Like the free-love generation of the 70s, will we realize there are consequences to the kind of anarchy we’re attracted to when we’re young.  When we’re pushing boundaries, discovering ourselves and making massive cock-ups along the way.

20 years ago, if you made an utter arse of yourself in public, you were relatively safe.  Friends or colleagues might mock you for a few years, and there might be on cringe-worthy pic out there on celluloid film to haunt you, but that was the extent of it.  The world moved on and it’s memory dimmed.

Today, you’re a lot more exposed.  Every mistake can be filmed, photographed, annotated and shared with the masses in a nano-second.  And it never goes away.   It’s there, cached, somewhere, for the rest of your natural life.

So when you’re applying for that job or chatting up that guy or applying for that loan, it could all come back to haunt you. Out of context and larger than life.

Will we regret it?  Or will our new order just usher in a more transparent, humans-as-flawed-beings era?  Or will we become so bored by the tabloid machine social media will make of our lives that we just won’t care.  We won’t flinch when the headlines reveal that the new president of the nation was once photographed in the nude with cigarettes up her nose and her knickers on her head? Or worse, smooching a poster of Edward Cullen!

My jaded self thinks there are going to be a lot of opportunities for ‘cleaning services’ in the not too distant future. Nice agencies that trawl the net for your embarrassing stuff and make it disappear.  Or negotiate with the Facebook Emperor Supreme for the quashing of those high school photos.

Maybe we’ll see the rise of the personal spin doctor for the average Joe.  An industry of unctuous individuals who’ll rewrite the past as only so much photo-shopped propaganda.

I think that this generation, just like every other, will want to hide it’s youthful indiscretions.  The question is, how?

Image from here.

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4 Responses to “Regretting social media”


  1. 1 c1nnam0n July 29, 2010 at 5:03 am

    I had an interesting Baby Boomer vs Gen X discussion with someone the other day, who declared you could tell someone’s real generational space by their attitude to their online persona. The Boomers see online as an extension of personal reputation, hence their relative conservatism; the X crew see their online alter ego as avatars.
    So Boomers will kyk skeef at a loony online persona, and Xs will consider a tame online persona to represent staidness.
    I’ve seen this played out in a few people – totally hot professionally, totally wacky online.

  2. 2 katewolters July 29, 2010 at 6:55 am

    I suppose if the millennial / x attitude grows with the generation, then it makes sense that one’s online life won’t be taken seriously in the real. Although I can’t help thinking that’s how they think now. In 30 years time, they might be doing the interwebs equivalent of ‘I didn’t inhale’.

  3. 3 Rian July 29, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Nice post, and a fascinating topic indeed. You now have morbid services popping up that promises to erase your profiles when you die, etc. I agree that we really haven’t even begun to understand what it means to grow up online from day 1.

    The NY Times recently ran a very interesting piece on this, called “The Web Means the End of Forgetting” – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/magazine/25privacy-t2.html

  4. 4 katewolters July 30, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Hey Rian. Thanks for the comment. I read the NY Times article a couple of days ago, which might be why these random thoughts were lurking in the back of my head. Absolutely fascinating. And your note about the services that erase you – makes me wonder if the reverse could be possible – convincing others that someone is still alive by keeping their profiles active. Now there’s a Hollywood movie waiting to happen.


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