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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A “digital do-over” for young people

Have you ever said or done something that you later regret? Who hasn’t? The only thing that could make the situation worse is realizing that a friend tagged your name in pictures of the regretted incident on Facebook.

For many of us, the thought of sharing so much information about ourselves creates panic and stress. Privacy and anonymity are things to be valued and protected.

Yet for a generation that has grown up in an era of technology-driven narcissism driven by instant messaging, texting, and Facebook, sharing anything and everything raises few concerns until they realize that a prospective employer can easily connect them to incidents that might make those employers think twice about hiring them.

How do people who have documented vast amounts of their lives on the Internet transition into professional careers?

One of the people who helped create this challenge has an idea and some advice for young people struggling with this data dilemma. Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, thinks young people should have the chance to start over by creating a new identity to “escape their misspent youth.” You could call it a “digital do-over.”

Schmidt believes that young people will be allowed to change their names to distance themselves from incriminating pictures and material stored on their friends’ social media sites.

Giving people who posted too many embarrassing pictures of themselves new identities is a simplistic way to ignore the real issue. We are responsible for our actions, regardless of what friends may have done with the photos. How does giving someone a new identity guarantee better behavior by that person?

The greater irony is that companies like Google and Facebook, that have created the technology that allow us to define our digital personality, are now archiving, analyzing and using those personalities to improve their marketing efforts. Giving people the chance to create new identities seems like an easy way for Facebook and Google to enhance their marketing capabilities.